By Caroline Turner
This week UMKC is hosting an Oral & Craniofacial Sciences Seminar, and with the Women in STEAM initiative going into its second year at the Women’s Center, it seems like the perfect moment to talk about Women in Sciences.
Reading through just a few stories of women in science history, I was shocked, surprised, and saddened as it alarmingly appeared repeatedly that teachers or dads told them that they cannot go into science or math. It was believed this wasn’t something a woman could or should do. Thankfully these women did it anyway, and contributed to these fields in ways nobody could have imagined. Although many of the women involved in our long history of science and math over many centuries faced issues of being told they can’t or shouldn’t do it, or lacked the resources that males received, the same root issues are still prevalent today. In a New York Times article about this, the author delves into how today these same attitudes dilute the science and math fields, even within women scientists. The imaginative possibility as well as the reality of being a woman in science or math is not something that is promoted – in fact it is perhaps unintentionally demoted. Women who continue to pursue sciences are underpaid, under hired, and discouraged throughout their academic and professional careers. The article talks about the quantitative and qualitative evidence of what causes there to be fewer women in these fields, through many statistics and the accounts of many women throughout the academic and professional field. The article states, “Only one-fifth of physics Ph.D.’s in this country are awarded to women, and only about half of those women are American; of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14 percent are women. The numbers of black and Hispanic scientists are even lower; in a typical year, 13 African-Americans and 20 Latinos of either sex receive Ph.D.’s in physics.” From many of the personal accounts of the women who did pursue the field, many of them experienced being the only woman in the class, being ostracized and belittled by other male students and even professors, one who graded the male students with a “boy curve” and the one female student by a separate “girl curve,” explaining that, “he couldn’t reasonably expect a girl to compete in physics on equal terms with boys.” Faculty encouragement that should shed light on opportunities and open doors for women is often not there; consequently, they may even darken opportunities and shut doors to women.
The article however also points out the great improvements that have been done to include women. As more attention is being brought to why women are missing in these departments, it is becoming common for science and math fields to begin celebrating having more women, “boasting” their 30% female researchers, 40% female colleagues, etc. The call for action from the NYT reporter included asking for “scientists of both sexes to realize that they can’t always see the way their bias affects their day-to-day lives,” and, “most of all, we need to make sure that women-and men- don’t grow up in a society in which they absorb images of scientists as geeky male misfits,” referring to the popular TV sitcom, the Big Bang Theory.
Just earlier this month we shared an article on our Facebook page about the strides NASA has made with their recent training program, in which 5 of 12 astronauts in the new class are female. This news follows the success of the movie, Hidden Figures that came out this year. The movie tells the story of a group of women who worked at Langley Research Center, the precursor to NASA that was crucial to Sputnik and Silicon Valley, and produced many advancements to science/ math.
In fall 2016, the UMKC Women’s Center in partnership with several academic units at UMKC launched the Women in STEAM Program. Women in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) was implemented as part of the Provost’s Strategic Funding Initiatives. The mission of the Women in STEAM Program is to foster the personal, academic, and professional development of female students in math, engineering, technology, and science and the University of Missouri- Kansas City, and to inspire and develop future female innovators with a challenging, integrated co-curricular experience that embraces the joyful aspect of play and discovery. This program benefits females in STEAM by helping to improve the learning environment at UMKC, and increasing the retention rate of female students in STEM fields.
The integration of arts in the existing STEM program has become a movement nationwide. Since the early beginnings of science, creativity and art have always been engrained in the best scientists. As early photographer Charles Negre (1820-1880) once wrote, “Where science ends, art begins.”
Today, although we are making progress, there is still much to be done. Recognizing where biases exists in STEM fields is the first step. Encouraging women within these fields is next step. Celebrating women existing in science and math is the third step, in which would create a cycle that encourages young girls to walk into an open door, a beautiful door of exploration, discovery, and limitlessness that is STEAM!