by Lucy Chen, Karen Martinez, and Claire Rodgers
In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” How true does this maxim ring for women in science, technology, engineering and math fields? At the University of Texas at Austin, the gender gap in each STEM major is evident, but the university is making strides to close that gap with support programs for women.
In the College of Natural Sciences at the university, 51 percent of undergraduates are women while 35 percent of graduates are women. In the Cockrell School of Engineering, 27 percent of undergraduates are women while 21 percent of graduates are women. In the mathematics Ph.D. program at UT, 32 percent of its members are women.
Keely Finkelstein, an astronomy lecturer at UT Austin, said the astronomy department has recently developed a group called AWARE, The Association of Women in Astronomy Research and Education.
“One of the best things universities can do to increase women participation in STEM fields is to develop a support system,” Finkelstein said. “I think some departments have had that unofficially for years, but we’ve recently tried to have it as a formal group so there can be a safe space when you need it.”
AWARE was formed in September 2014, and it strives to increase female participation in STEM fields, fostering better working environments for all members, educating members of the STEM community and engaging members of the STEM community.
Alexandra Gibner, a computer science major at UT, said in order to close the gender gap, STEM interests need to be introduced at a young age.
“If computer science were taught earlier and more mandated, there would be less of a sense that “oh this isn’t for girls,” or “oh I wouldn’t be good at this,” Gibner said.
Just like Finkelstein, Gibner said she valued her support system.
“I do appreciate that the UT Women in CS student org will pair incoming freshman girls with mentors,” Giber said.
Margret Tombokun, an electrical engineering student at UT, said that mentors are very important and that she had to seek out her own mentors in college.
“I think the clearest disadvantage is the smaller number of female mentors, so I think it can be easier for female students to fall through the cracks,” Tumbokun said. “I tell [younger girls] that it’s probably going to be tough, but if they find something about it that they love or like enough to work at it, then they should go for it.”