Increasing the Number of Women in the STEM Workforce
A recent journal article in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) entitled “Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit”, by J. Ellis, B. Fosdick, and C. Rasmussen, had some fascinating information and conclusions:
In this study, the proportions of students who cited reasons for not entering Calculus II were comparable across men and women, except for one: “I do not believe I understand the ideas of Calculus I well enough to take Calculus II.”
This lack of confidence was cited by 35% of women, and only 14% of men, all of whom originally intended on pursuing a STEM career. Women switching from STEM pathways are citing a lack of understanding of the material in Calculus I as a reason for not continuing their STEM studies significantly more often than men.
An article by K. Piatek-Jimenez, “On the Persistence and Attrition of Women in Mathematics”, states that: “Confidence in mathematical ability may also be a possible reason why women do not choose to pursue mathematics. Women frequently report lower self-confidence in mathematics than their equally talented male peers. This trend is true even amongst the most mathematically talented students.”
Lack of confidence plagues women in other fields as well. "The Confidence Gap", by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, cite a number of studies. Hewlett-Packard found that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job; while men applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, started studying the problem of self-perception decades ago. “I would set up a test where I’d ask men and women how they thought they were going to do on a variety of tasks.” She found that the men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both, while the actual performances did not differ in quality. “It is one of the most consistent findings you can have.”
Margie Warrell, in a recent Forbes article, “For Women To Rise We Must Close 'The Confidence Gap' wrote: “…wherever I’ve worked in the world, I’ve consistently that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds women back." She cited an eight-year study by Wiebke Bleidorn that analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem”, and found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.
“Math for Girls, Math for Boys”, by A.K. Whitney in the Atlantic, stated that only one in ten contestants in the International Math Olympiad are female and many teams have no girls at all. Last year’s U.S. Team, which took gold for the first time in 21 years, was all male. Sherry Gong, who in 2007 was the second American girl in International Math Olympiad history to get the gold medal, recalled getting a pep talk during a competition from her coach. “I thought I was doing really badly, but ... she said girls tend to underestimate how well they are doing.”
What can we do to increase confidence and foster perseverance for all students to succeed in high-level mathematics and STEM studies?
Programs to increase confidence and persistence, as well as STEM skills, are growing in STEM City (aka Flagstaff). Highlighted programs include:
Girls on the Run (GOTR), celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has a primary goal of increasing self-confidence in young women. See this STEM City blog by Marney Babbitt on how you can participate.
Growth Mindset is being used by a number of teachers in Flagstaff including Elii Chapman, a math and science teacher at Flagstaff Junior Academy, and the runner up for the 2016 Coconino County Teacher of the Year. (Look up Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth to learn more.)
All-Girl Events/Competitions including all girls’ math or chess tournaments is another way to reduce the social issues that come with young women in competitive environments with young men. The Flagstaff Chess Club will hold its 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament in January, hosted by a strongly supportive Lowell Observatory staff, and including a lunchtime talk by a female astronomer. The Cactus-Pine Girl Scouts have held all girls engineering events, coding workshops, and after-school STEM activities for local students.
With Math I Can is being promoted by FUSD math specialist Jane Gaun, and others. This is a pledge we can all take to not make negative comments about mathematics!
INTEL Math and other math education courses are offered to local math teachers through FUSD and the Coconino County Educational Services Agency (CCESA).
Cash for Calculators is an initiative of FUSD and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses to purchase graphing calculators for schools so students can use them during the year and be more prepared for the exams that require these calculators.
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) has design challenges that encourage girls and all students to increase persistence, creativity, confidence, and more. The award-winning curricula from the Museum of Science Boston (MOS) is widely available in Flagstaff. FUSD has two EiE kits at each grade level in all ten elementary schools. Thanks to funding from the Arizona Community Fund of Flagstaff (ACFF), the CCESA has all 20 kits available for K-5 teachers in any school to check out after they have taken the free workshop on using the curricula. STEM City, with funding from ACFF, the W.L. Gore Foundation and the Ernest and Evelyn Chilson Fund, have four out-of-school time kits available to Girl Scout troops, STEM clubs, etc. The nationally-recognized Center for Science Teaching and Learning at NAU is working with Flagstaff's U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Center and the MOS to create three new engineering units with an astrogeology theme and cutting-edge science.
Ready.Set.Code is a Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce initiative working to increase computer and app coding skills in students. Scott Hathcock and cohorts at the Chamber launched Ready.Set.Code with both “Hack the Class”, and the “Summer of Code” events, after least year’s initial coding camps at College America were such a success.
Robotics Camps and Clubs are both growing in Flagstaff. The County Parks and Recreation Department held two lego robotics camps in June and has room available for their two upcoming camps the first week of August. The CocoNuts robotics team leads summer camps for students and has an upcoming camp for adults interested in coaching robotics. The camp is only $20 and is coming July 26 and 27th if you are interested! The Girl Scouts recently hosted a Video Game Design Workshop for 50 girls at NAU. Killip Elementary has a K-2 coding club, FJA has a middle school coding club, and we know that the many schools with robotics teams use coding to get those robots moving!
STEM City has held two free Code.org workshops with master teacher Janice Mak, and also freely loans out instruction materials. STEM City also has engineering kits, bioscience kits, and more, to freely loan out to teachers and home-school parents.
Coconino Community College now offers two engineering courses as well as advanced math and physics, and has an Engineering Pathways grant to increase engineering in middle schools, high schools and at CCC.
Northern Arizona University has a higher percentage of women in science and engineering than most colleges and universities (data coming soon)!
Please contact STEM City if you have programs you would like highlighted in a blog post or in the STEM Community e-letter. And thank you for all you do to increase both skills and confidence in our youth!
Thank you to Melissa Sevigny of KNAU and the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk for the interview on this article and inspiring this post!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator