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Lipinski Examines Ways to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Participation Among Females

 
Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology's Research and Science Education Subcommittee held a hearing to examine 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. Members questioned witnesses about the challenges that deter young women from pursuing post-secondary STEM degrees.

"Over the past few decades, girls and women have made substantial gains in breaking down barriers in both education and the workforce.  However, women's participation rates in certain STEM disciplines remain disproportionately low," stated Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (IL-03). "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.  Although this is an improvement from the time I was earning my mechanical engineering degree from Northwestern University 20 years ago, more can be done to encourage women in these fields." 

In the past few years, interest in gender inequity in STEM education and fields has increased. In 1993, the National Science Foundation (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.

According to a recent assessment by the National Association of Educational Progress, there is a small but persistent gap in performance within STEM education between boys and girls in primary and secondary schools - less than one percent for math and less than three percent for science. Many researchers believe that issues such as self-confidence and perceived expectations negatively affect the achievement of girls on standardized tests.

At today's hearing, witnesses stressed the importance of mentors and support from parents in encouraging females to pursue degrees and jobs in STEM fields. Ms. Cherryl Thomas mentioned the significance even the toys parents buy their daughters can have on their interest in engineering and science. Her interest in engineering was sparked by a set of her brother's building blocks.

"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.  We must have women engineers, computer scientists, and physicists. By broadening the STEM pipeline to include more women and other under-represented groups, we can strengthen our workforce," added Lipinski.

A highly-skilled, STEM education workforce is essential to ensuring the United States' competitiveness and leadership in the global economy of the 21st century.

For more information, please visit the Committee's website.

(July 22, 2009)

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