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Exploring Women's Participation in STEM Education

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

In a hearing last week, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee examined current research findings, best practices, and the role of federal agencies in increasing the interest of girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in primary and secondary school.

Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) highlighted that women’s participation rates in certain STEM disciplines remain disproportionately low.  “We have heard time and time again that, as a nation, we are not producing enough scientists and engineers for the increasing number of technical jobs of the future.  We need to make sure that we have the scientific and technical workforce we need if we are to remain a leader in the global economy, and it is not possible to do this without developing and encouraging all the talent in our nation,” explained Chairman Lipinski.  He also stated that “according to the NSF, although women earned more than half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees in 2006, they earned only about 20 percent of degrees in engineering, computer science, and physics.”

Representatives questioned witnesses about the challenges that deter young women from pursuing post-secondary STEM degrees. Witnesses stressed the importance of mentors and parental support in encouraging girls to pursue degrees and jobs in STEM fields.

In 1993, the NSF created the Program for Women and Girls which led to the Research and Gender in Science and Engineering Program (GSE). The GSE program produced a series of publications established to help educators, employers, and parents promote gender diversity in STEM. The FY 2009 budget allocated roughly $11.5 million to NSF’s GSE program, signaling a continuing interest in gender inequity in STEM education and fields.

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