Panel discusses lack of women in STEM related fields

Michael McShane
Staff Writer

The Society of Women Engineers held a panel Thursday to discuss ongoing issues pertaining to the low amount of woman in STEM fields in the nation.

On the panel were Dr. Fredreanna Hester, research scientist for the Progresso brand at General Mills, Dr. Stephen Druschel, a professor of civil engineering at MNSU, Dr. Emily Ziemke, a North American Corn Technician lead at DuPont Pioneer and Marianne Anderson, a graduate and research student at MNSU.

All four came together to speak about the how they went into their own specific STEM field and the people that encouraged and helped them through their undergraduate and graduate life.

The three woman who participated in the panel however are in a small minority group in which woman made up only 28 percent of the science and engineering work force per a study conducted by the National Science Board. 

The four panelists discuss the reasons behind this, much of the blame pointed at a lack of role models and stereotypes that hold girls back from entering such fields.

“Look at one of the trade magazines, you won’t see a lot of pictures. And when you see pictures, you can tell they’re placed,” Prof. Druschel says about the underrepresentation of women in STEM. “27-years old and blonde or some other model and it’s like – show me a real person.

A lack of role models is not the only road block that is keeping girls and women from STEM field. Even as the country is about to go into the 2020 decade, there is still the persistent stereotype concerning STEM fields where subjects such as math and science are more geared toward boys and English and the Arts are primarily for girls only. 

This stereotype takes shape commonly during K-12 education where boys and girls are finding their passions. During this important and impressionable phase of life, many girls can be interested in such things as science and math, but not go further either because they are not encouraged to follow that passion or, as mentioned, a lack of role models.

A topic discussed by the panelists was the struggle women in STEM careers go through is the belief that one mistake can cost everything. When you’re the only female on the team, there is a pressure to be perfect and to not take risks that male colleagues can otherwise make without fear.

Hester spoke about her own personal experience dealing with this issue herself, “I typically hold myself to a higher standard, I don’t feel like I have that leeway,” Hester said. “It kind of has that pressure because you don’t have anyone else to look at.”

There is no study that shows boys are better in STEM-related subjects, in fact, a study published on Nature Communications showed that girls performed equally and sometimes better in STEM subjects than boys. 

While grades are not a factor, we can blame the outdated notion that boys are better in STEM-related subjects then girls as the reason girls are held back from continuing into the field.

The three female panelists at Thursday’s event are examples and role models that girls can look at and see that women can indeed succeed in STEM fields and not feel as though they can’t make it in those industries.

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