Thursday, July 19, 2007

"The Neck of the Flower: STEM, an Importnat Aspect of Women's Choices in Careers"

By Christina Stevens-Payne and Martha Young

On July 18, 2007 we went to a briefing, “STEM Education, Girls, and the Challenges that Follow: From the Classroom to STEM Careers,” with speakers Dr. Jacquelynne S. Eccles, Ph.D. and Dr. Laurel L. Haak, Ph.D. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and for those who may not understand the severity of this topic, understand that there is a huge disparity between men and women in these fields. This briefing discussed the lack of women engagement in STEM careers. According to information reported by Girls Inc., a youth organization that motivates girls at high risk in their academics, there is a misconception that females have a lower aptitude than males in STEM. They stated, “The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress in math and science for grades 4, 8 and 12, found the largest gap between boys’ and girls’ scale scores to be a mere four points.” Additionally, half of the finalists in the 2007 Intel Science Talent Search were comprised of girls. While these numbers are very positive, they are not high enough. Girls Inc. also stated that, “Girls continue to lag behind boys in computer science and physics, comprising only 31% of AP Physics test takers and just 16% in AP Computer Science test takers in 2006.”
What really stood out to us was that according to The College Board 2005 Total Profile Report out of all the college-bound seniors in 2005, 15% of the young women planned to major in computer science, 15% planned to major in engineering and 40% planned to major in math. Fast forward to college graduation and according to the National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering you learn that women only account for 20% of the bachelor’s degrees in math and computer science. This is shocking to learn considering that women make up 60% of the undergraduate college population. Eccles’ presentation discussed this issue in-depth through her research from over the past 25-30 years, however, there were some key components within the study that didn’t sit well with us and we felt the need to discuss these further, point by point:

She Said….

Eccles said she focused specifically on communities where the participants were more “likely” to achieve higher education. Most of her participants were from the southeast Michigan area and did not include Detroit. (See our rebuttal #1 below)
Eccles said the study was based only on gender and not race, sexuality, gender, and ethnicity. (See our rebuttal #2 below)
Eccles’ study focused on primarily undergraduate and graduate women and their work while only skimming the surface of middle school and high school young teenage women. (See our rebuttal #3 below)
Eccles discussed how dangerous it was that the minority women are not able to get interested in STEM. (See our rebuttal #4 below)

We Said…

First off, it was hard for us to really get a full understanding of this issue without regards to urban and rural lower income young women. We felt the study was biased towards a specific group of participants. Southeastern Michigan is seen as a more affluent and middle class area. Only using those participants, pigeon-holed Eccles’ arguments. She couldn’t make a generalization because she didn’t use a wider range of young women.
You can’t look at women, without taking into consideration ethnicity. You can’t look at women, without taking into consideration poverty. Basically, when you talk about women, you need to include all of these factors.
Generally, since we are in the age bracket of undergraduate and graduate students, we believe young women tend to already have an idea of what they are interested in whether it be math or liberal arts. However, middle and high school students tend to not have an idea of their interests. Consequently, this is the age range where interests are developed and should be were we focus our efforts.
Frankly, it is not an interest issue, but a resource issue. If you have young women who are from a more affluent area they have access to resources in their schools, therefore, becoming interested in STEM. However, if a young woman comes from an area such as the urban or rural locations mentioned earlier, the resources are not always readily available, perpetuating further disengagement and an everlasting and widening gap between the social classes.

After all is said and done, we believe that the original context of the briefing was important and necessary, however, it is important that when researching such a colossal topic, a researcher really must make sure they have dotted all their i’s and crossed all their t’s. Eccles did not do that and we were disappointed at her study and findings, as well as her evidentiary support. Hopefully in the future, other researchers can be more aware of this factor when conducting their studies. We would never want to dissuade or discourage research studies in this field because as we all know, there is a women’s movement and these studies only help it.

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