Uplifting Women in Male-Dominant Majors

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There were only 63 women in the computer science major at UC Santa Cruz in fall 2011. Two years later the number nearly doubled to 129, but the number of men is still nearly five times the number of women. The percentage of undergraduate women in the Baskin School of Engineering for fall 2013 was 17 percent, with men making up 82 percent.

Project AWESOmE — Advancing Women’s Education in the School Of Engineering — began efforts to support UCSC women majoring in computer science and technology in fall 2013.

A community of students and faculty, Project AWESOmE is interested in pursuing the study of computer science and technology while supporting women in a male-dominated field.

The participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is noticeably lower than the participation of men in the same fields. According to the United States Census Bureau, only 26 percent of the workforce in STEM-centered careers were women in 2011, though they make up half of the workforce as a whole.

In 2011, only 13 percent of engineers were female. Additionally, less women are graduating with degrees in these majors than men — approximately 20 percent of engineering majors in the U.S. are female, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

“One of the things Project AWESOmE is designed to do is help women who might be one of the only or few women in their major see a larger community of other women they can connect with,” said Undergraduate Student Affairs director and one of the Project AWESOmE creators Adrienne Harrell. “Feeling a sense of belonging often makes you feel more inclined to persist and succeed.”

With a grant from the National Center for Women and Information Technology, Project AWESOmE hired two student engagement coordinators, Remington Maxwell and Brittany Arthur. As a sophomore computer science major, Remington Maxwell wants women to feel empowered in engineering classes at UCSC, not outnumbered. As a student engagement coordinator for Project AWESOmE, she gets to do just that.

Project AWESOmE holds events that allow participants to form relationships with others and form networking connections. In fall 2013, the project hosted a “Welcome Tea,” which brought together faculty and both graduate and undergraduate students, Maxwell said.

“One of the benefits of being a part of Project AWESOmE is the networking and support one receives from their peers,” Maxwell said. In winter 2014, Project AWESOmE sponsored UCSC students who attended the “She’s Geeky” conference held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. The conference aimed to bring together women interested in STEM studies.

Mechanical engineering student at San Diego State University and UCSC visitor Lauren Swann experienced the different demographics in classrooms and in the laboratories. In classes of 90 men, Swann is often one of only four women and in most labs, the only female in a class of 30. Though determined to pursue her passion in the sciences, being a female in a mostly male class did have its downsides, Swann said.

“What bothers me is when teachers or male students ‘baby’ you or do not take your opinion seriously,” Swann said. “Women are rarely encouraged to do the hands-on manufacturing unless they speak up.”

Swann thinks women should not be held back by demographics or stereotypes. Through programs like Project AWESOmE, this goal is being accomplished.

“The world needs self-reliant critical thinkers and inventors to drive the potential and advancement of innovation capacity,” Swann said. “If you were to limit this field to only men, then you are limiting the next generation of innovation.”

This spring quarter brings new opportunities for the project, including study sessions offering academic support. Another spring addition is a “shadow day,” in which local high school girls are hosted by UCSC students in an effort to create interest in STEM majors.

Although the participation of women in the STEM fields is increasing in the U.S. and at UCSC, Project AWESOmE continues to make small inroads in developing equality.

“We are making changes one person at a time,” said Undergraduate Student Affairs director and one of the Project AWESOmE creators Adrienne Harrell. “We just want to make sure the world isn’t missing out on all the great contributions of women.”

 

 

Access additional information and email updates on the Project AWESOmE website, http://awesome.soe.ucsc.edu, or the Project AWESOmE Facebook page.