Committed To Getting Women Into SciencesPublished: March 3, 2014
CSULB’s Science Education Department is working hard to help young women jump into the new world of science with a combination of hands-on help and role models.
“The Science Education Department is committed to bringing more women into the sciences,” said new department chair Lisa Martin-Hansen, who joined the university in the fall of 2013. “Even though there have been enrollment increases in the biological sciences and some in chemistry, there are still large disparities between physicists and engineers in terms of gender. We are trying to bridge some of those gaps.”
One key to attracting more women into the sciences is interdisciplinary cooperation. Martin-Hansen points to the Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) as representative of science education’s outreach. “The U.S. faces a critical shortage of qualified physics and physical science teachers. Two-thirds of new physics teachers lack a physics degree, and over 90 percent of middle school physical science students are taught by teachers without a physical science major or certification,” she explained. The American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers lead the PhysTEC project, with support from the American Institute of Physics. Now in its 12th year, PhysTEC’s mission is to improve and promote the education of future physics teachers.
“This program represents a collaboration between physics, astronomy and science education featuring a collaboratively taught course here on campus led by our department’s ex-chair Laura Henriques and a member of the physics and astronomy faculty,” explained Marti-Herman. “The goal is to make the sciences accessible and applicable. How does the field of physics relate to lives and careers? This course helps to make that connection.”
There are career fields such as education that tend to be dominated by one gender or the other. “The goal is to pair up those fields oriented to females with areas that are not,” said Martin-Hansen. “That’s always a win-win situation,” she said. One collaboration can help to foster others.
One of the most successful of these collaborations is the two-week Young Scientists’ Camp offered on campus every year where students in grades 2 through 8 solve mysteries, investigate the world and take a peek at what may be their future careers.
“The science investigations done in Young Scientists’ Camp complement what children learn in school,” said Martin-Hansen. “Students will go into greater depth, make connections between science and other disciplines and do creative and exciting projects. Kids have fun while learning.”
Martin-Hansen also pointed to the department-sponsored sixth annual “See Us Succeed” program (Science Education Experience to help serve Underserved Students Succeed) held at Long Beach’s Mary McLeod Bethune Transitional Center at the Villages at Cabrillo for two weeks to draw kindergarten through middle-school children from Long Beach’s homeless families into the world of science.
As she tours local school districts, Martin-Hansen has acquired first-hand experience with the obstacles young women face on their way to careers in science. In a recent New York Times story headlined “Why are there still so few women in science,” Martin-Hansen pointed out that only one-fifth of physics Ph.D.’s in this country are awarded to women, and only about half of those women are American; of all the physics professors in the United States, only 14 percent are women.
Martin-Hansen is proud of CSULB’s reputation as a campus that serves underrepresented groups, such as its designation by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution.
“We are reaching out to elementary-aged kids to get them excited about science,” she said. ”This is a place we want to make sure people feel welcome and supported. We have an advisor dedicated to working with teacher education applicants. That’s incredibly crucial.”
The careers young women can look forward to move closer with a major in science education, she said.
“A science major can lead in many career directions,” she said. “It could take the student into teaching or it could take them into industry or museums. If you have a science degree and you go into law, you end up with a much more lucrative career. Science and math can help career choices overall.”
There are more obstacles to women in engineering than test scores.
“Sometimes, these are first-generation students whose families do not know how to support higher education. How can we structure their classes purposefully?” she asked. “One of the keys to success is getting these students into the right study group. It is important to consider them in a university setting.”
Martin-Hansen sees science education’s commitment to bringing more women into science as one that is ongoing.
“We are definitely looking to grow in all areas that are currently underrepresented,” she said. “Anything we can do to help our colleagues in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to grow their majors is something we’re happy to do. What helps them helps us in turn. It is a collaborative effort. We want to present a career in science as something interesting and engaging. We want young women to see science as something they would want to pursue.”