Dickinson Ahead of National Trends in Equality in STEM

Sarah Manderbach ’22, Staff Writer

Dickinson’s student and faculty reflect a growing trend in the U.S. to make Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields more diverse. 

Historically, women have been in the minority in the STEM fields. Efforts to increase these numbers in teaching positions have been integral to Dickinson’s diversity initiatives, said President Margee Ensign. 

“It’s the right thing to do, you learn better, all the research supports that,” said Ensign. “For all those reasons it’s a big priority for us.” 

Men outnumber women in most STEM fields, according to research conducted by Minnesota State colleges and universities. Their website states 17 percent of chemical engineers and 22 percent of environmental engineers are women.  

Sarah Bryant, visiting assistant professor in the mathematics and computer science department, said she never felt like the sole woman in her department. “This isn’t true of all the spaces that I enter as a mathematician,” Bryant said, “but I have felt as if we have a lot of different role models here.” 

Bryant has worked on several grants with the National Science Foundation that help to encourage diversity and inclusivity in the STEM fields. 

Visiting Lecturer in Chemistry Christine O’Neill noted the difference in the number of men to women during her upbringing in the field.  

“It was interesting when you went to conferences because you were in the minority,” O’Neill said. “But I was very fortunate and had supportive advising and never felt anything other than a strong student.” 

O’Neill is one of the seven female professors in Dickinson’s chemistry department, making women professors the majority in this field on campus. 

Diversity extends to students as well as the professionals. According to Brenda Bretz, vice president for institutional effectiveness and inclusivity, women are starting to dominate the student population, generally and in STEM.

Bretz said in the last four years, 28 percent of female Dickinson graduates graduated with a STEM major, compared to 27 percent of males. Of the STEM majors themselves, 58 percent were female while 42 percent were male. In terms of ethnicity, 71 percent of STEM grads in the last four years identified as white, and the remaining 29 percent identified as non-white.

Factors to these divisions may include implicit biases that occur in the work place, according to an article written by Catherine Hill of the American Association for University Women (AAUW). Another factor could be stereotype threats, where “a negative stereotype is relevant to evaluating performance” of women in the field, according to Hill. She says this can be as simple as having a woman take a test in a room full of men, which could lead to a lower score on her part. “When the burden is removed, however, her performance will improve,” writes Hill. 

O’Neill said inclusive values should be taught to kids while they are young. “Keep that curiosity going, and [youth is] where that happens. Generating that excitement and inquisitive nature at a younger age is what is going to have the best impact,” said O’Neill.