Iowa State professor strives to keep women in sciences


Photo:Bryan Langfeldt/Iowa State Daily

Bonnie Bowen, associate professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology sits behind her desk. Bowen is the director of the ISU Advance Program, which encourages women to enroll in the sciences.

Thane Himes

Dr. Bonnie Bowen’s passion for science fueled an initiative to keep women in the field at Iowa State. But Bowen isn’t alone in impacting the university. 

Bowen is one of the 12 women to be featured on the 2011 Women Impacting ISU Calendar, which will be unveiled during a reception ceremony at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

Bowen is the director of the ISU Advance Program, an organization dedicated to seeing what can be done to keep women in the sciences and engineering, as well as what can be done to attract future women.

The organization received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to conduct its five-year program. The ISU Advance Program is currently on its last year of using the grant.

“We look at university policies and programs and see if there’s something that can be changed or improved to try to bring women into the sciences and engineering,” Bowen said. “Most often you’ll see women getting their undergraduate degree and not continuing on either in graduate school or those fields. We want to change that.”

Bowen has loved science since she was a teenager.

“I took a lot of science classes in high school, and it just struck a great chord in me,” Bowen said. “I just liked doing it, and I was encouraged to keep with it.”

Apart from her duties for the ISU Advance Program, Bowen also serves as adjunct assistant professor for the department of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and she serves as affiliate assistant professor for the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management. She teaches classes primarily about animal behavior.

Bowen studies birds throughout her career, which has taken her all over the continents — including spending three years in Costa Rica studying one species in particular. Her research focuses primarily on their behavior, as well as their population biology. She also belongs to scientific societies, specifically those focusing on ornithology.

But Bowen is most proud of the fact that she simply stayed in the sciences.

“I feel like I’m always learning something new,” Bowen said. “As a professor and an administrator, I’ve learned things from a combination of lots of different fields.”

Above all, Bowen is dedicated to women entering and staying in the sciences.

“You can do it,” Bowen said. “There is always going to be a need for scientific minds, and that need will only increase now with the constantly growing level of technology. You can enter a field or study something that only you are interested in, or you can be part of a group effort that could change the world. It’s very satisfying.”