Why So Few? The latest AAUW report on women in STEM fields

March 31, 2010

A new research report released by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) presents evidence that can help explain why there are so few women in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Eight key research findings point to environmental and social barriers which include stereotypes, gender bias, and obstacles within  the STEM departments of colleges and universities.

We often think stereotypes exist in our society but we don’t know that stereotypes could actually affect the decisions we make later on in our lives. Research shows that the beliefs around us will affect the way we think. For example, if a girl feels that our society believes boys are better than girls at math, the belief will affect her, even if she doesn’t believe it herself. These stereotypes should be eliminated in order for young female to believe in themselves.

As I started writing this blog I was curious about the stereotypes young women perceive  in their high schools. Therefore, I asked my sister, a sophomore in high school, if she felt there were any gender stereotypes in her school. She stated that in her school there is a common belief that boys do better than girls in STEM classes. For example, one of her teachers made the statement in class that “boys are better in science and girls are better in literature.” I was shocked to hear this as I thought it is the teacher’s job to encourage all students to explore STEM courses.  I believe that stereotypes such as the one this teacher vocalized keep girls from becoming stronger in STEM. As a result, pursuing a career in a STEM field may not even occur to some young women.

I also thought it was interesting to read in the AAUW report about the former Harvard president who famously doubted that women are capable of succeeding at the highest levels of science and engineering. Since he spoke from such a powerful position, he furthered encouraged the stereotype that women may lack the ability to succeed in STEM fields. I believe that people in positions of authority, such as this former college president, should be aware when making a statement which could easily influence a group of young people negatively.

We live in a global village where men and women should be treated equally with respect. As educators, we should eliminate the stereotypes in our classrooms and increase all students’ interest in STEM. We should follow where the talent comes from but not focus on gender. I encourage you to read the report and comment on why you personally feel there are so few women in STEM fields.

View the Report

View a panel discussion sponsored by the AAUW about the report

STEM Mentors Program Kicks Off!

March 26, 2010

A Big and Little from the STEM Mentor Program meet a duck from The Seneca Park Zoomobile. The Zoomobile also brought a rat, an owl, and an armadillo for the presentation they did called "Animal Adaptations."


March 6th marked the kickoff of the STEM Mentor Program – an innovative new partnership between The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (The Center) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester (BBBS)  

This exciting program matches fourth, fifth, and sixth graders with adult mentors who have a background or passion in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. Pairs meet once a month to engage in a formal or informal STEM related activity – such as visiting the Rochester Museum and Science Center or taking a nature hike in a local park. 

BBBS of Greater Rochester provides the matching and training of Big/Little pairs and The Center supports these matches with access to community resources, field trips and other group activities.  

The goals of the STEM Mentor Program are to: 1) Foster excitement and engagement in youth for STEM disciplines 2) Increase the number of students that maintain passing grades in college preparatory courses and 3) Increase the number of youth planning to attend college in STEM disciplines.  

While the final two goals may seem far away for children in grades four through six,  the reality is that those grades are the pivotal years to incite longterm interest in math and science.  Studies have shown that math scores decline most between grades six and seven. 

STEM Mentor Paul Guglielmo decided to become a STEM Mentor because he witnessed this trend starting with his own Little. “I was talking with my Little’s caregiver one day and she mentioned he was having a little trouble in school with science.”  Guglielmo, who is surrounded by science and technology on a daily basis as an on-air personality for a popular Rochester radio station, saw an opportunity to make a difference. “I want to pass that [interest in science] onto my Little,” Guglielmo said. 

March 6th was the first group activity for these pioneering pairs like Paul and his Little. The STEM Mentor Bigs and Littles came together for a fun-filled afternoon of games, pizza, discussion, and a presentation from The Seneca Park Zoomobile.  

Mentor Ensley Townsend, who said he joined the STEM Mentor Program “to share my love of math and science with younger minds,” enjoyed the event–especially the hands-on approach to science–something the STEM Mentor program strives for. “I loved the Zoomobile and the interactive nature of the event,” Townsend said, “It was my first time touching or even coming close to an armadillo.” 

Touching an armadillo was also a first for all of the Littles at the event.  These exciting moments of science shared between a Big and Little is what the STEM Mentor Program is all about. 

If you are interested in learning more about or joining the STEM Mentor Program please email the program coordinator, Caurie Putnam, at cputnam3@zimbra.naz.edu All STEM Mentors are Big Brothers Big Sisters volunteers foremost and must first go through the thorough background check and training the organization provides.

“Lunch with a Scientist” – An innovative program by Newark teacher Sharon Sweet

March 23, 2010


Dr. Skuse, of RIT, was a recent guest at Newark High School's "Lunch with a Scientist" program.

Sharon Sweet, a Chemistry teacher at Newark High School wanted to help students explore career opportunities in fields that interested them. So Sharon brainstormed with other teachers and came up with an innovative idea they named “Lunch with a Scientist.” During “Lunch with the Scientist”  a professional in one of the STEM fields is invited to discuss their careers – over lunch – with students currently enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) level courses.

When the program first began, the school struggled to find professionals willing to Wayne County to speak. Therefore, Sharon pursued a grant that funded complimentary lunches for the students and presenters. The first speaker to participate was Dr. Gary R. Skuse, Professor of Biological Sciences at RIT.  The first event was extremely successful. During Dr. Skuse’s visit the students were very engaged and asked many questions about his field.

I asked Sharon whether she believes that other schools should follow her lead and begin a similar program. Sharon pointed out that each school functions differently and the success of the program may different based on the student population. There was a specific need at Newark High School as students were working hard in science but struggled to understand the possibilities that awaited them after high school and college. Sharon cited specific examples of students that wanted to become engineers but were unsure of what it really entailed to be an engineer. Before the program started, most of Sharon’s students had a misconception that pursuing science in college could only lead to a career as a teacher or doctor.  However, this program has helped students expand their understanding of opportunities available in the field of science.

Wondering how much time it takes to start a program like this, I asked Sharon to estimate the commitment needed by a teacher to create something like “Lunch with a Scientist?”  Sharon said that it is not time-consuming to organize the event. Preparation includes making phone calls, arranging dates for the program, booking the program room, and ordering the food.

Sharon’s persistence in making this program evolve from an idea to reality has changed the way many Newark students view a STEM education and careers. As educators, it is important to not only spark students’ interest in a subject in the classroom, but also how that subject might be applied to the real world. Sharon has successfully shown us one way to help students visualize their future while they are still in high school.

FIRST Robotics Competition at RIT

March 16, 2010



On Friday, March 5th students from forty-four high school throughout New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Canada participated in the Finger Lakes Regional FIRST Robotic Competition, hosted by The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) In total about 4,000 participants and fans attended the annual competition which is sponsored by a robotics organization called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) FIRST is a non-profit organization founded by Segway inventor Dean Kamen.

 The theme of this year’s competition was “Breakaway” – a robot version of soccer. Five teams qualified for the championship round in Atlanta next month by defeating robots from other teams in the game of Breakaway.

It is essential for schools and STEM related organizations to hold competitions like the First Robotic competition to give students the opportunity to explore science in a fun, hand-on way and to promote an interest in STEM higher education and fields. The competition also increases student’s creative thinking, problem solving and teamwork work skills.  

High school physics teacher Ellen Bansik Lewis saw the valuable skills students gain from participation in the program first hand.  Lewis coached the FIRST Robotics team at Greenwich High School in Connecticut from 2000 – 2003.  “I think that the most impressive aspect of FIRST is how students partner with corporate sponsors, professional engineers, teachers, and their parents and younger brothers and sisters to work as a team, under time constraints, to get a job done that gives them an appreciation for science and technology,” Lewis said.

Lewis saw many of her students go on to college majors and, eventually, careers in the STEM disciplines. “Many of my former students involved in FIRST have gone on to study Engineering or Physics in college. Some of these students had an interest in Science and Technology to begin with, but others found their interest in science because of their participation with the project,” Lewis said. 

Yet, Lewis also saw some students gain skills applicable to other disciplines or that could be applied to STEM fields in a non-traditional way.  “Many students enjoyed designing and building the robot, others enjoyed the computer programming,” Lewis said, “There were also students involved in the project that focused on marketing, publicity, fund-raising, and travel arrangement aspects. I’ve had students go on to pursue careers in business because of what they got out of the project.”

It is quite possible that someday youngsters who participated in The FIRST Robotics Competition at RIT will be students there in a myriad of fields thanks to the valuable skills they learned through the competition.

40,000 Teachers Give Their Views on Education Reform in “Primary Sources”

March 10, 2010

Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today released Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools, a landmark report presenting the results of a national survey of more than 40,000 public school teachers in grades pre-K to 12. The survey reveals that, while teachers have high expectations for their students, they overwhelmingly agree that too many students are leaving unprepared for success beyond high school. Primary Sources reveals teachers’ thoughtful, nuanced views on issues at the heart of education reform – from performance pay and standardized tests to academic standards and teacher evaluation. Teacher responses reveal five powerful solutions to raise student achievement.

The survey, which was conducted by phone and on the web from mid-March to mid-June 2009, identifies five solutions to address the challenges facing schools today and to help ensure that all students achieve at their highest levels:

  1. Establish Clear Standards, Common Across States
  2. Use Multiple Measures to Evaluate Student Performance
  3. Innovate to Reach Today’s Students
  4. Accurately Measure Teacher Performance and Provide Non-Monetary Rewards
  5. Bridge School & Home to Raise Student Achievement

Read the full article here.

Happy Pi Day!

March 10, 2010


March 14 will be the 22nd annual Pi day that celebrates the mathematical constant π. Pi has been known for almost 4000 years—but even if we calculated the number of seconds in those 4000 years and calculated pi to that number of places, we would still only be approximating its actual value.

 The founder of Pi Day was Larry Shaw, a now-retired physicist at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California. The most common form of celebrating Pi day is of course baking and eating pies!  Some great Pi activities for celebrating the day can be found at www.TeachPi.org Have a Happy Pi Day!

The Captain Planet Foundation Educational Grants

March 3, 2010


The Captain Planet Foundation is an organization that supports hands-on environmentally themed projects for youth in grades K-12. Their objective is to encourage innovative science activities and to empower children from around the world to become environmental stewards. The Captain Planet Foundation strives to teach students appreciation  for our planet by becoming become active participants in environmental conservation.

Grants are available from The Captain Planet Foundation to schools and non-profit organizations that support students ages 6 – 18. The grants provide opportunities for students to learn about environmental issues and hone their creative problem solving skills  in the process. In order to be considered for the grants, proposals must:

• Promote understanding of environmental issues
• Focus on hands-on involvement
• Involve children and young adults 6-18 (elementary through high school)
• Promote interaction and cooperation within the group
• Help young people develop planning and problem solving skills
• Include adult supervision
• Commit to follow-up communication with the Foundation (specific requirements are explained once the grant has been awarded)

The deadline for the foundation’s next grant is  March 31, 2010. Other grant deadlines are June 30, 2010;  September 30, 2010, and December 31, 2010. The range of grants is $250-$2,500.  For more information please visit the grants page of The Captain Planet Foundation.