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Career day, Internet to promote interest for women in science

By Stewart MacInnis

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 15 - December 11, 1997

A special page on the Virginia Tech Internet web site designed to bring more women students to the university and a career day to interest girls in science and technology are two results of a "Women in Science" luncheon sponsored by Provost Peggy Meszaros December 3.
The group of more than 30 women scientists, engineers, and educators attending the luncheon also discussed strategies to recruit more women to faculty positions, as well as strategies to overcome barriers that inhibit the success of women students.
"There are few things more important for us to address" than the matter of bringing more women into the university as both students and faculty members, Meszaros told the gathering.
The luncheon was inspired by the Science and Gender Equity Program of Western Virginia. The program, also known as SAGE-VA, is a collaboration of Virginia Tech women scientists and public-school teachers in five Southwest Virginia counties to interest middle-school girls in science. Most of the women attending the luncheon have volunteered to assist with the SAGE-VA project.
According to a 1996 study by the National Science Foundation, women constitute 51 percent of the U.S. population, and 46 percent of the U.S. labor force, but only 22 percent of scientists and engineers in the labor force. In their educational patterns, only 45 percent of women earned bachelor's degrees in science and engineering, with about half of those earning degrees in the social sciences. Women accounted 20 percent of the doctoral scientists and engineers in the U.S. in 1993
Karen Torgersen, director of Undergraduate Admissions, said that with the exception of Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech is the only public institution in Virginia with a preponderance of male undergraduate students.
"There is a shift within our society, and within our incoming students, to fields that are heavily male-dominated," she said. "We now have a split of about 60-percent male to 40-percent female undergraduates. I expect that separation to grow even greater in the future."
The new university policy of requiring students to own computers is likely to further whittle that percentage because more girls than boys are intimidated by computers, she said. Though males dominate computer usage, she said, women represent one of the fastest-growing audience sectors for the Internet.
Meszaros endorsed a suggestion to add a "Women at Virginia Tech" page to the university's web site. Torgersen said the page would be added to the Undergraduate Admissions homepage.
Bevlee Watford, associate dean of academic affairs in the College of Engineering, said a career day held on campus to make girls of all ages aware of careers in science, engineering, and technology could help with recruiting. She said separate breakout sessions could be held for various age groups.
By including opportunities for girls of all ages, Watford said families with several girls of different ages may be more likely to travel to the Virginia Tech for the activity.
Meszaros asked Watford to coordinate a girls career day, though no date has been set for it.
Meszaros asked those attending the luncheon to think about ways to recruit more women to faculty positions. Among ideas floated were identifying women in their undergraduate years who have the potential become faculty members and helping them negotiate the academic requirements leading to an advanced degree. Also discussed was the need to improve the environment for women students on campus.
Meszaros said she will bring the luncheon group together again in the spring to further investigate ways to increase the number of women at the university and improve their success.