“Men may have landed on the moon, but it is the hidden ‘human computers,’ the women in STEM, like Katherine Johnson, who charted the path for their safe landing and back. They may be invisible at times but they have an impeccable impact. There are many such women in STEM and they are critical for our future discoveries. Let’s make such role models visible,” Sastry Pantula, Dean, College of Natural Sciences, CSUSB
Women have participated in scientific breakthrough developments throughout history and in many instances, milestones have been made and women were nameless working behind the scenes. One prominent example is Katherine Johnson, who passed away February 24, 2020, at 101, and was featured in the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures, as the trailblazing black female NASA mathematical genius that John Glenn relied upon for verification of his flight trajectories.
The percentage of women who have been granted a STEM degree has been steadily going up, but there is still a gender gap that has been difficult to close. It’s more important than ever, though, because STEM jobs are growing at a faster pace than the overall job growth in the United States, as there will be 2.4 million STEM jobs in the U.S. job market that will remain unfilled. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, colleges will only be able to produce one-third of the potential graduates needed to meet the need in the STEM market, so it is critical to close the gender gap in the field.
CSUSB is working hard to be a part of the STEM solution and with the recent $5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Crest II federal grant to the College of Natural Sciences, they will have the resources to do it.
“The future is bright for women in STEM, and women not only belong in STEM, they are critical to advancing discoveries,” said Pantula. “Women must be at the table when policies are being made on data and science. Girls should not be discouraged by anyone – not by their teachers, their peers, the media, or their community.”
“Aside from good income and job prospects, STEM is a great way to look at interesting problems that can lead to technology to make our lives better,” stated Dr. Kimberley Cousins of the College of Natural Sciences here on campus.
There were plenty of women attending the recent CSUSB STEM and Social Sciences Career Fair which was held February 20 in the SMSU Events Center. Graduate students at Keck Graduate Institute, Angel Webb and Yazmin Estrada, both CSUSB alumni, shared their perspective on why women should consider a career in STEM.
“There is a lot of growth and creativity in STEM,” said Estrada. “Women can be intimidated because it’s all a man’s space.”
“Women can come at a problem from a different viewpoint than a man,” said Webb. “Not that it’s necessarily a better viewpoint – it’s just a different viewpoint than a man.”
Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Special Agent, Rachel Park, shared her thoughts about working in the STEM field.
“It’s important as a young female to find your passion – if you fail maybe that’s because you need to do something else,” said Park. “However, I put my faith into hard work, and I never gave up.”
The main issue is often the so-called leaky pipeline in STEM, which is the number of students, many of whom are women, who drop out of STEM education, and this has been the topic of many academic studies.
“Seventh and eighth grade is when we lose young ladies from mathematics,” stated Pantula.
CSUSB alumni and University of Notre Dame Trustey STEM Fellow 2018, Shannon Maloney-Flores is a junior high STEM and math teacher at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Riverside, Calif., and she spoke about this phenomenon.
“The key to growing a diverse STEM workforce is to begin exposing students to STEM education at an early age,” said Maloney-Flores. “It is vital that we make real world connections with the standards we are teaching and at the same time be sensitive to the cultural backgrounds and experiences of our students.”
One factor involved in the gender gap may be a lack of self-confidence among girls in math and science, so Maloney-Flores is pleased to watch a young female student enthusiastically solve a complex math word problem in front of the class.
“I strive to create an equitable learning environment that empowers my students to see their vast capacity as learners and also introduce them to careers in STEM that complement their strengths and interests,” said Maloney-Flores.
One thing is for certain, the STEM field is growing, and both men and women are needed in it.
“We need to increase the number of women in the pipeline, figure out ways to fix the leaks in the pipeline through appropriate policies, and benefit from everyone having a seat at the table for better science and better policies,” said Pantula.
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