By Albert Nall, staff writer for The Current

Public opinion, along with the explanation for the shortages of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, was the topic of discussion given by Professor Bettina J. Casad, assistant professor in the department of psychological sciences. The lecture by Professor Casad took place in the Student Government Association Chambers in the Millennium Student Center building on November 5 from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Pizza and beverages were served. A printout of a newspaper article by Natalie Angier published on September 2, 2013, was distributed at the event. The dialog was part of the monthly “What’s Current Wednesdays” discussion series that is co-sponsored by “The Current” and “The New York Times.” Editor-in-Chief Anna Glushko, junior, psychology, represented “The Current” and moderated the event. Professor Casad was introduced by Lynn Staley, associate teaching professor of English, who is a member of the organizing committee with Student Life and Community Outreach & Engagement at UMSL. According to Casad, there is a lot of progress for women in disciplines such as biology and other subfields represented in STEM. However, Casad noted that there are different and lower levels of representation for women in fields such as computer science, physics, and engineering. Casad addressed what she felt was the misconception by industry professionals that “women are choosing not to go into the STEM fields” by pointing out the scarcity of American engineers compared to other countries.

“My argument is this: the sciences and engineering is critical for economic, foundational and competitive success in a global economy. If there are not enough engineers in the United States, we will be at a disadvantage,” Casad said. According to Casad, there is research that sends a message regarding diversity in the STEM fields. “A diverse scientific workforce is more effective when it comes to such factors as race, gender and life experience. There is more creativity among a diverse workforce than more homogenous teams, and this is good for scientific innovation and the bottom line,” Casad said.

The downside of STEM that was discussed by Professor Casad at the lecture is the cultural socialization, especially among ethnic minorities, that may discourage women from entering into technology. “Among the factors that result in women not entering in the STEM field, or changing their major, include encountering people in college who do not look like them. Also, women are often attracted to fields where they can help others, which is often cited as a greater value than entering into the sciences,” Casad said.

Jaleah Williams, graduate, higher education, changed her major from a STEM field. In college, Williams’ intention was to follow a pre-medical track. “Thinking back, I was very smart in high school, and all of my math teachers were male and they really knew their stuff. However, I transferred from a predominately African American college to a predominately white institution. This was a culture shock for me. While I did well in my classes, I changed to an education major from a STEM field because I wanted to do work to help society,” Williams said.

Another issue that Casad addressed was biases that discourage women from entering into the sciences. According to Casad, there were experiments done where female applicants for jobs changed to masculine names on their resumes. “The outcome of the experiment determined that males were not only are more likely to be hired than the women, but the men were offered higher salaries as well,” Casad said.

Sandra J. Langeslag, assistant professor of psychology, addressed what she felt was the denial on the part of college academic departments to acknowledge biases in the hiring of women in science departments. “Being aware of the bias is an important step in overcoming them. In the first college that I taught at, there were five chairpersons discussing careers in the sciences. I asked them, do you have a bias when judging resumes for the department. The chairs all said, ‘of course not’,” Langeslag said.

The purpose of “What’s Current Wednesdays” is to encourage campus community engagement on topics in the news. For more information on future topics at the lectures, visit The Current website at www.thecurrent-online.com.


© The Current 2014