UVU receives grant to increase numbers of women in math and science

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Mariesa Bergin, Reporter @riesajb 


UVU has been selected to receive a grant to increase female performance and participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields as part of a statewide initiative.

Susan Thackeray, director of Career and Technical Education, is a Utah leader in promoting gender equality in STEM.  Her determination led to the reception of the grant.

The grant includes a 3-year funded research project to analyze why women at UVU are not as involved in STEM as men.

Kim Bartholomew, the associate director of the Center for the Study of Ethics, organized the Ethics Forum for Faculty Research held on Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 4p.m.  Cheryl Hanewicz, associate professor of Technology Management, was invited to join Thackeray in a presentation about gender equality efforts in STEM on campus.  

Thackeray and Hanewicz presented research, which suggests that a social message is being sent which teaches that women do not belong in the sciences.  

Women of all ages have reported feeling less capable and less accepted in math and science fields.   

UVU’s numbers certainly reflect that women do not pursue these degrees as often as men.

Last year 392 men pursued degrees in a STEM, compared to 305 women.  More than 230 of those women were accounted for in a health related program.  

Students and faculty are urged to support women who are interested in studying STEM subjects in all phases of life.  

“It is going to take everybody to change this trend,” Thackeray said. “Women are underrepresented in STEM locally and nationally.  Everybody has a wife, sister, mother or friend.  They need to be supported in their ambitions.  Become an agent for change.”

“I don’t believe in limitations or gender lines,” Jim Condie, who works in the IT department, said at the event. “People should be able to pursue whatever interests they want to.  My daughter and I restored a jeep together.  Whatever my son wants to do, wherever he shows ambition, I will support him.  Gender isn’t who they are.”

Thackeray and Hanewicz proudly acknowledge that UVU’s faculty has been supportive and outspoken about gender equality issues, starting with President Holland.  They said that he has supported them from the beginning in their efforts to support women in education and is hopeful that UVU is already on the path to improvement.  

The goal is to take everything the research project yeilds to the rest of the state and help students, kindergarten to college, feel supported in exploring any type of education, including and especially those related to STEM fields.

Some question whether or not there is something biologically different about the female brain, which is contributing to the disinterest in science and math related subjects.  Researchers wonder whether we are pushing to change something that is naturally occurring and not driven by biases about gender roles.

According the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), fourth grade girls in Utah perform 6 percent lower on math and science proficiency exams than boys.

Data collected at an earlier age might suggest whether this is a biological difference, or a learned result of cultural influences, but NAEP testing does not begin until the fourth grade.

A grant-funded project implemented in Texas focused on training teachers to send unbiased messages to women in STEM classes.  Results showed that women, men and minority groups all performed better following the teacher trainings.

This increase in scores following the trainings suggests that a cultural influence was present on some level.  This same program will be implemented at UVU with the grant that has been provided.