Category Archives: STEM

Nobel Laureate Professor’s Comments Highlight Sexism in the Sciences

sexismTim Hunt, a biochemist from University College London, recently resigned following controversial statements he made at the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea. Hunt was quoted as saying “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls… Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.”

After a backlash in the Science community, Hunt offered the following apology: “I’m really sorry I said what I said. It was a very stupid thing to do in the presence of all those journalists… What was intended is a light-hearted ironic comment. Apparently it was interpreted deadly seriously by my audience… I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It’s terribly important that you can criticize people’s ideas without criticizing them and if they burst into tears, it means that you tend to hold back from getting at the absolute truth. Science is about nothing but getting at the truth.”

Unfortunately for Hunt, this apology was not enough and he resigned days later. A recent article in The Atlantic highlights why Hunt’s statement is so problematic. Most notably, he perpetuates unfair stereotypes about women in STEM fields that have persisted for decades. As the article notes, women are continually paid less for the same jobs as men in Science fields. Additionally, women face an exorbitant amount of sexual harassment in their fields, as well. Thus, Hunt’s statements gesture toward wider biases and systemic issues that need to be solved if women are to close this gap. It is up to education to help further the publicity of this issue and allow for women to advance properly in STEM field on the whole.

Two Panels in Detroit Encourage Young Women to Join STEM Fields

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A recent panel at a Michigan Council of Women in Technology-sponsored CIO (Chief Information Officers) conference in Detroit shows promise for the development of STEM programs in the state of Michigan for young people, and especially girls. With over 500 attendees, including CIOs from Ford and General Motors, the panelists discussed the future of STEM fields and how the state of Michigan can answer Governor Rick Snyder’s call that “STEM education and competency is a top focus for Michigan and we’re doing more and more to develop talent on this front.”

Interestingly, across the street, another conference was being held addressing this same issue. Felicia Fields, group vice president of human resources at Ford, spoke at a Forbes forum, where she revealed that Ford would be implementing  career academies in Michigan schools to promote STEM fields, as well. “Ford has four academies in three locations in Florida, Kentucky and Utica. When the new Detroit academies are added this fall the network will serve 2,800 students,” notes Detroit Free Press writer Carol Cain. As such, the future of Michigan and its’ promotion of STEM careers for young people seems to be bright.

Wayne State U Honors students can teach Wikid GRRLS for HON3000/service-learning requirement

wayneHON 4940 WIKID GRRLS – TEACHING GIRLS ONLINE SKILLS FOR KNOWLEDGE SITES

Did you know that women are only 13 percent of Wikipedia contributors, that is, the people who write and edit the articles? Wikipedia’s gender gap affects what is (or isn’t) part of “the sum of all human knowledge” that the popular online encyclopedia offers.

You can be part of closing this huge gap. Register for HON 4940 for Fall Semester 2015 and teach middle and early high school girls in Detroit Public Schools online skills. HON 4940 also fulfills your service-learning/HON 3000 requirement!

You’ll teach in schools close to our WSU campus with a pre-prepared curriculum. We’ll meet weekly to discuss progress & blog about experiences. We’ll also collect data on how such interventions can encourage girls to contribute to projects such as Wikipedia.

Be part of closing Wikipedia’s gender gap!

If you have any questions about the class, on how to register or have trouble registering, don’t hesitate to e-mail Stine Eckert at stine.eckert@wayne.edu.

The international perspective on STEM

 

Plenty of studies and arguments have been presented that tell us that it is neither good for society nor the economy when women and girls are not working in STEM fields. Based on UN data, Chelsea and Hillary Clinton’s No Ceiling project offers a summary of how STEM plays out not only in the United States but also how it compares internationally.

Worldwide, the percentage of graduates with a bachelor’s degree in science who are women range from 25% in the Netherlands to almost 50% in Argentina. The United States is in between, with 41 percent. The article highlights that worldwide only 20 percent of computer scientists are women. That is, women and girls miss out on working in one of the fastest growing and highest paying fields.

While girls start out strongly in school regarding math and science skills, confidence and interest fade when they reach secondary school levels, as the article details.

Hence, it is especially important to keep girls engaged in computer science with fun projects and encourage them to consider tech jobs as lucrative careers. Our free Wikid GRRLs curriculum works to keep middle and early high school girls engaged in the process of learning online skills and to consider a job on the back side of computing. We build confidence and remind girls at this particular time in their lives that a career involving technology is a viable option.

We are working to bring our free 10-week afters school program in Detroit Public Schools. If you are interested in working with Wikid GRRLs, e-mail Dr. Stine Eckert at stine.eckert@wayne.edu.

“Dilbert’s” Scott Adams: How many women do we need in tech?

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Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, has treated the gender gap in tech careers in many of his cartoons, sometimes subtler, sometimes more bluntly. Perhaps you remember the comic strip about “his mother.”

Recently he shared his perspective on the gender gap in plain prose, suggesting a goal of 33 percent women in technology careers.

While not all parts of his blog post make complete sense (which he acknowledges), he does provide his observations as an insider, especially of the start-up culture:

“Pause for a moment to let that sink in. I didn’t say I have met few women in those types of jobs, or not as many as I would have expected. I am saying I have literally met zero. None.”

He presents three interconnected reasons: women are not encouraged to enter technical fields; networks are key for success but women appear to be cut-off as men mingle among themselves; and sexism, discrimination and old-boys networks “make technology an unfriendly place for women. My observations support that.”

Thus, striving toward 33 percent is not a bad first step toward gender parity in STEM. As Adams suggests, encouraging girls and women to enter tech jobs is the first step before they get build and interact in networks.

Wikid GRRLs believes, based on studies, that we need to start early to get girls at least thinking about these fields for future careers. We need to encourage girls already in middle school to learn and hone computer and internet-related skills and to consider computer science and related areas as viable job options. With our curriculum we introduce girls to the idea that they, too, can be  part of the back space of online structures and online content. We hope to get started in five Detroit Public Schools this fall. Stay tuned!

If you are a teacher in a Detroit Public School, especially around the Wayne State University campus, and are interested in working with Wikid GRRLS, contact Stine Eckert at stine.eckert@wayne.edu.

The importance of role models

It makes a lot of sense to tackle the gender gap in STEM fields from different angles.

Apart from early education and dispelling myths about math and gender, another piece of the puzzle is to ensure that girls have role models they can relate to and identify with. A free to download collection of interviews with “Women in Data,” by Cornelia Lévy-Bencheton, gives women a voice to share how much mentors and role models have shaped their careers in different fields in data and technology.

The interviews also show that with more women going into technology, more role models and mentors will be available to coach younger women and girls to follow.

Be inspired be these 15 “Women in Data.”

 

Barbie struggling as computer engineer? A sad story that luckily can be fixed

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It is sad, very sad indeed, when a book that is supposed to empower girls sends the opposite message. In its series of Barbie: I Can Be… Mattel hit another low in portraying Barbie as too dumb to handle computers. In Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer, as reported on Daily Dot, she manages to infect her laptop with a virus, tells readers that she needs her guy friends to do the coding for her computer game, and needs little sister Skipper to reboot her computer. Little sister Skipper in turn is not able to back up her files.

It’s difficult to understand how such narratives can still pop up given the gender gaps in STEM fields, including computer science. These gaps have become pretty common knowledge. Just recently, NPR’s Planet Money detailed the increase in women in computer science to 35 percent in 1985 to then steeply drop to just 17 percent in 2014 because of a complex entanglement of factors. Another example is Stanford University President Hennessy who recently argued for getting more women working in technology.

As slow as Mattel is on catching up on the trend of properly empowering messages for girls, as quick are women to fix such disturbing sexist narratives. Miranda Parker, computer education specialist, and Casey Fiesler, doctoral student in human-centered computing, inserted the right, feminist messages into the pink dolls’ mouths: “You can like pink and be a really good computer programmer.” The fixed book is available as a PDF for free.

Our Wikid GRRLs project and Wayne State University’s Go GIRL project send the right messages: girls can code, girls can do sciences, study and work in STEM fields, can run wikis, can contribute to knowledge online, can confidently express themselves and their concerns publicly online.

If your school, library, or community center is interested in using our Wikid GRRLs curriculum to teach middle school and early high school girls online skills for knowledge projects, e-mail wikidgrrls@gmail.com

A big shout out to Dr. Sally Roberts at the @WSUGoGirls project and Dr. Monica Brockmeyer, co-founder of the Go Girl and associate provost of student success at Wayne State University, for bringing these stories to our attention.