Tuesday, October 27, 2009

New Initiatives at the Women’s Center Support Women and Girls in STEM Fields

During the current academic year, the UMKC Women’s Center is working on a variety of projects to help promote the recruitment and retention of women and girls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Current initiatives began when planning for the 2009 Starr Symposium in fall 2008. As the committee was commencing its work, an article in the New York Times highlighted a study that noted that girls with exceptional talent in math are rarely identified in the United States, helping
to lead to a shortage of qualified scientists and engineers. Partly in response to that study, the Starr committee decided to bring former astronaut Mae Jemison to campus to talk about how to get women and girls interested in STEM careers, and also developed the Starr Women Leaders Program, to help support UMKC and high school students studying STEM fields.

At about the same time, the local branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) was discussing setting up a program focusing on women and girls in STEM as part of the national AAUW’s “Breaking through Barriers in STEM for Women and Girls” initiative and approached the UMKC Women’s Center about a possible collaboration, the result of which was the development of the Women in Science and Engineering Program (WISE). Slated to begin in Spring 2020, the mission of WISE will be to foster the personal, academic, and professional development of women graduate students in math, engineering, technology, science and the health sciences at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Finally, the Women’s Center was approached by two outside groups looking for partners on their programs for women and girls in STEM – Sally Ride Science is bringing their Sally Ride Science Festival to UMKC on Sunday, November 8 and the Women’s Center is a key partner. Earlier this month, we also took part in a Community Conversation on Girls in STEM fields, co-hosted by the Girl Scouts,Science Pioneers, the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City, KU Med, Project Lead the Way, and other groups – and we will be working on designing follow-up projects based on the information and suggestions collected from the community conversations.

While the timing of some of the current programs has been serendipitous, the goal behind all of them is to increase the number of women and girls pursuing careers in STEM fields. We do so because, in the words of the AAUW, “The lack of women and girls in STEM fields has significant implications for women’s economic security as well as the overall economy and America’s global competitiveness . . . If women and members of other traditionally underrepresented groups joined the STEM workforce in proportion to their representation in the overall labor force, the shortage of STEM professionals would disappear” (source). While the UMKC Women’s Center and UMKC cannot hope to entirely solve these problems, I am hopeful that we can make a significant contribution through programs and partnerships such as the ones described above.

-Written by Brenda Bethman, Ph.D., Director, UMKC Women’s Center

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