Daily Archives: November 6, 2009

“Girls” as Scientists? You bechcha!



chemistry set
Notice the BOYS on the front of the box

Good morning. A friend of mine posted this video on his blog site and on facebook. I am unashamedly borrowing it today. At first I thought that this was a cute little scooter not worth blogging about. Then I happened to notice the names of the people who built it. Four people were listed. Three were women.

It makes me feel good when I see women getting recognition in a field that has been so long dominated by white males. I googled “women engineers” and discovered the SWE site. That’s the Society of Women Engineers. It says the society was formed in 1950. There were enough women engineers sixty years ago to recognize the importance of organization and networking. I have no objections to white males in any profession. I just object to lack of opportunity to the rest of our American society.

I wish I had had more positive role models in my life who could have pointed me in a direction similar to these women. I had two favorite play “toys” that I remember when I was growing up. One was a set of small “bricks” to build houses and other buildings. They were precursors to the modern LEGOS. The sets came complete with windows, doors, and all else needed to entertain future architects. I would entertain myself for hours with that set.

The second was a chemistry set. My guardian angel must have worked overtime every time I got out the chemistry set, or some wise person who created the set didn’t include anything that could possibly go BOOM! I did a lot of experimenting, especially when I was home alone. Now the sets have “parental supervision advised”. If that had been the case, I never would have been able to play with it. At one point I also had a microscope which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I was a very curious little girl. I loved everything about science even when “science” was just something we read out of a book. The older I got, however, the less I was encouraged to explore the possibilities of such a career. I started having troubles with math in my junior year with advanced algebra and solid geometry. Instead of my father helping out and tutoring me, he paid no attention. My dad didn’t say anything when I didn’t sign up for calculus and trig in my senior year. I don’t think he even knew what I was taking. I did take four years of science however. I absolutely loved advanced biology.

When I was in college and becoming so disenchanted with nursing, I still loved biochemistry. When I talked with the professor about perhaps changing majors, he informed me I wouldn’t be interested. He said something in addition but I didn’t pursue the matter. I had heard enough.

Now things are somewhat different. Now 8% of American engineers are women.  That’s up from 6% in the 80s. I can imagine the percentage in the 60s when I was in college. I’m guessing it might have been 2-3%, if that. There were never any women coming out of the engineering building while I was on campus. No wonder no one encouraged me to pursue anything but nursing, secretarial work, or teaching. Women have combined societies with the Society for Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Engineers. Women and minorities have been constantly overlooked as potential engineers. Now these three groups are taking matters into their own hands to recruit talented students from within their own ranks.

It is ironic that the field of engineering is decreasing in popularity among white males as well as women. There is a prediction of a crisis of numbers of engineers in the near future. Many more will be needed.

If indeed it is true, according to Michael Moore in his latest movie, “Capitalism”, the brightest among college students are being wooed by the big Wall Street financial giants where they see easy, quick money rather than years of education. Business administration with its corresponding specialities such as finance, accounting, management, etc. is by far the most popular major in college.

I’m wondering how long it will take women engineering students to become as well represented as those in medical schools. Current medical school enrollment doctorshows 52% male to 48% female. That is a huge difference when in the 1960s there were token women among the medical students at the university where I was attending. The number of women was less than 10%, reaching only 22% by 1974,

I am so pleased at the effort to recruit young girls and get them interested before it is no longer “cool” to be smart. As you can see from the videos in the link above, the young women engineers interviewed are not “nerds”. They are well-balanced young women who have been lucky enough to made contact with others who showed them the way.

I have enjoyed being contacted by and reconnecting with a young woman on facebook who was a student in my fourth grade class. She has reported that one of the young women she still is in contact with is majoring in biomedical engineering. Another one is majoring in neuroscience. A third former student I’m aware of is a dermatologist while a fourth one has her doctorate and is working in a cutting edge university on the origins and treatment of pain.

Teachers in large districts don’t often hear of the fates of former students. It is very humbling to hear of the successes of these young women and know I played a very small part of their educational success while they were still in their formative years of elementary education. Those were in the years when the district felt it essential to provide extra educational opportunities to its gifted male and female students. It’s sad that jealousies on the parts of principals and other parents eventually led to the downfall of  teaching these students so they reached for the best in their education. Gifted students in the district will or may not be affected by being in a regular classroom where they are bored stiff practicing for the state standardized test which most can pass in September. But I think it is a shame to our nation that we are putting them in a situation where they feel they have to conquer all other peer pressure in order to achieve. Some will….many won’t.

What do you think? Do women belong in the field of engineering and other sciences or should they stay in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant as was assumed of their grandmothers? Namaste. Attic Annie


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