3 ways to get more women into STEM

In just a few years, Harvey Mudd College increased its share of female computer science graduates from 10% to 40%.

The college's president, Maria Klawe,  has been an outspoken advocate of closing the gender gap for women and has committed to increasing both gender and racial diversity at Harvey Mudd. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Klawe shares three strategies the institution has used to encourage more women to enter its STEM programs:

1: Revamp curricula

Typically, STEM courses start with theory and wait until higher-level courses to show students the real-world applications of those theories. But Klawe argues the content is more engaging and accessible if students learn real-world applications from the very beginning, side-by-side with theory. Harvey Mudd's introductory engineering course now allows students to complete hands-on projects, such as building their own underwater robots. Klawe reports that both men and women performed better in the course—and a 20-year performance gap between the genders "disappeared."

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2: Build confidence

Studies have found evidence of a "confidence gap" between male and female students in certain STEM fields, particularly computer science, bioengineering, and robotics.

Harvey Mudd has taken several steps to bolster the confidence of women and other underrepresented groups within its STEM majors. For example, the college offers opportunities for undergraduate research between the first and second year. Klawe cites studies finding that women and underrepresented students are more likely to stick with a field that they've conducted undergraduate research in.

Harvey Mudd also helps female students connect with mentors and women working in STEM fields, which helps them envision themselves in those roles. "Women in STEM fields benefit greatly from having female faculty role models," notes Klawe, urging colleges to hire more female faculty members in STEM fields. Harvey Mudd also sends groups of students to professional conferences for women in STEM, such as the Society of Women Engineers conference and the Grace Hopper Celebration.

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3: Create pathways

The steps between college and a successful career can seem like a mystery to students. To illuminate what it takes to achieve success in STEM fields, Klawe encourages colleges to establish affinity groups, such as the women's chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery. These groups help students form supportive peer networks and gain access to resources about their chosen careers (Klawe, Chronicle of Higher Education, 11/5). 

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