Bridging the gender gap

Many students carry on in their education seemingly unaware to the fact that there are fewer women attending Utah Valley University than men—actually, a lot less. Although most students are oblivious to this fact, UVU is not, and administration is working hard to bridge the gender gap that exists on campus.

In 2012, the fight to close the gap between genders was recognized by Governor Gary Herbert’s office, as well as funding from many state agencies such as the Utah System of Higher Education and the Utah State Office of Education. Even UVU President Matthew Holland viewed the gender gap as a serious concern.

“Utah’s female participation rate of 44 percent is an inverse of the rest of the nation which sits at 56 percent,” Holland said. “Compared to all other 50 states, Utah is dead last in terms of the percentage of female students enrolled in post-secondary institutions. And UVU sits as the lowest of the low at 43 percent.”

As a result of these statistics the president and faculty members created the Women’s Success Center in the fall of 2011. Anne Wairepo, director of the Women’s Success Center, sees the center as a critical foundation to help women not only choose worthwhile degrees, but also to make women better contributors to society and their families in the future

“The biggest issue for me is not just women thinking about being breadwinners, because many women feel they will never have to be that,” Wairepo said. “My biggest concern is that women are not taking into account that an education allows them to become a thinking, speaking and decision-making kind of a person. There are no negative correlations with education.”

One of the goals of Women’s Success Center is to increase the number of females in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In these fields, Wairepo sees the lack of diversity even among faculty members in STEM fields as part of the reason why women have not traditionally pursued these fields in the past.

“We know it is important to have role models and mentors for younger women, students and women in mid-careers,” Wairepo said. “We see it as valuable thing to have women in key positions at universities. It’s hard to believe that you can be something if you never see a woman in that role.”

Another woman instrumental with the Women’s Success Center is Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Educational Project and professor of management in the Woodbury School of Business. While Madsen sees strong efforts coming from UVU, she also sees a lot of work to do with women with STEM and especially business.

“In the school of business we only have 20 percent of our students who are female,” Madsen said. “Across the nation, [the percentage of] females in schools of business is closer to 50 percent. So UVU is quite low on female students, and we as a school are quite low on faculty as well, but we are hoping to change that.”

In an effort to produce higher results, both Madsen and Wairepo have organized the Women’s Success Council that meets and coordinates what is going on with women. The group recently promoted a STEM open house to help expose young women to the different fields. All these efforts. according to Madsen, are designed to keep women and students informed about their future in school.

“You need education to reach our God-given potential,” said Madsen. “Education can help us do that.”

For more information about the Women’s Success Center visit their website http://www.uvu.edu/wsc/, or stop by their office in room LC 303.

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