Women seek role models in science, engineering schools

Tiffany Hartkemeyer

Women and minorities are less likely to enter and remain in science and engineering when they lack role models in their college departments, according to a recent study.

The number of female and minority science and engineering faculty at the nation’s “Top 50” research universities was found to be disproportionate to the number of female and minority students graduating from those programs.

The study is titled “A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities” and was researched at the University of Oklahoma.

Some engineering disciplines with very low percentages of doctoral degree attainment among females have a more proportionate number of female faculty to female students.

The study concluded that when female students in those disciplines see fewer female professors being hired, given fair treatment or retained, they assume they will receive similar treatment. This causes them to be less likely to continue in that discipline.

Andrea Lowe, president of the National Society of Black Engineers and senior in chemical engineering, said her organization provides support to students facing these issues.

“The disproportion restricts our ability to find role models and a basis on how to behave as minorities and women in these fields,” Lowe said.

The study said many students find it easier to relate to professors with a similar background, and if those professors don’t exist in their institution, the students are not as successful, drop out or pursue a career unrelated to the field.

However, the problems aren’t insurmountable, some said.

Sarah Ryan, associate professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, said although having female role models in her field is nice, women don’t necessarily need another female to feel comfortable.

“When I was a student I didn’t have any female professors, and I guess that is part of the reason why I pursued this career,” Ryan said.

Christina Mendez, senior in microbiology, said during the past four years, she has had only two female science professors, but it hasn’t affected her performance.

“The lack of women and minority faculty in my science classes has always been obvious, but it’s never really bothered me much,” she said.