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3 Retaining Women Students T he goal of any academic program is to move students through to the completion of their majors to graduation. However, some un- dergraduate students who were interested in science and engi- neering (S&E) in high school may decide not to pursue a degree in an S&E discipline or to switch out of an S&E major.1 Of particular importance at the undergraduate level is the timely enrollment of students in prerequi- site classes so that they face no obstacles to taking more specialized S&E curricula in their junior and senior years. For graduate students, attrition may more often mean leaving gradu- ate education rather than switching to another major, as undergraduates might do. The committee was most interested in how universities can retain students through to their doctorates, because this degree is a pre- requisite for postdoctoral and faculty positions in academia. Graduate attrition can be dramatic. Although good national-level data are lacking, estimates place attrition from Ph.D. programs at between 30 and 50 per- cent (Denecke, 2004). Golde (2000:199) writes that doctoral student attri- tion rates "consistently range from 40 to 50%." A recent study of Ph.D. completion at Duke University found that the completion rate for gradu- ates in the biological sciences was 73 percent--and only 60 percent in the 1The committee did not deal directly with the issue of undergraduate students dropping out of college, although many of the reasons listed could lead to this outcome. Additional reasons may include financial hardship or lack of overall preparation. 48
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 49 physical sciences and engineering (Siegel, 2005).2 Other studies report similar findings (NRC, 1996). Attrition seems to occur in clusters. In gen- eral, about a third of all doctoral student attrition occurs in the first year; another third occurs before candidacy; and the final third occurs after candidacy (Golde, 1998). The many opportunities for attrition were a concern at all of the uni- versities visited. For many universities, attrition is the natural outcome of students searching for what they perceive to be their optimal fit. But when students drop out of S&E majors and yet prefer to remain in the S&E program, attrition may stem from curriculum issues (e.g., content, instructional techniques, and pedagogies), students' characteristics (e.g., their preparation, interests, and ambitions), or students' positive or nega- tive experiences with teachers, advisers, parents, and peers. CHALLENGES Undergraduates Attrition of interested S&E undergraduates is worrisome (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). Does it mean that S&E fields are failing to engage the interest of top students? According to one study, both male and female top students drop out of science and engineering at high rates. For ex- ample, in biology only 33 percent of top freshman biology majors go on to graduate in that field; the comparable number in mathematics is only 24 percent (Schroeder, 1998). Available evidence of attrition rates disaggregated by gender pre- sents a mixed picture. One study of beginning postsecondary students conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. De- partment of Education (US DOE, 2000:ix) found that "female students in S&E programs did not fall behind in the pipeline; they actually did better than male students in degree completion and program switch. This find- ing suggests that although women are less likely than men to enter S&E, those women who do enter S&E fields are likely to do well. Further, among students enrolled in 4-year S&E programs in the first year of col- lege, women tend to have strong family support, high expectation, healthy self-confidence, and solid academic preparation." Other studies, how- ever, have found that women persist in engineering programs--that is, complete a baccalaureate degree--to a lower degree than men (Adelman, 1998). Seymour and Hewitt (1997:14), defining persistence as intending to graduate, found that students in science and engineering (excluding the 2The analysis was based on Ph.D. cohorts matriculating from fall 1991 through fall 1995. The figures are percentages of completion as of fall 2004.
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50 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY social sciences) had a high rate of switching out of their intended S&E major into the humanities, social sciences, or other non-S&E majors. More specifically, about 63 percent of freshman who declared the intent to ma- jor in mathematics or statistics switched to a non-S&E major. Seymour and Hewitt (1997:19) also found that "women more commonly than men switched to a major outside the group of their choice." However, the results in S&E are mixed: Seymour and Hewitt found that in engineering the switching rates for men and women were similar, whereas in the physical sciences men switch more than women. The authors conclude, though, that women leave S&E at a higher proportion than men. One view is that, among top students, women are somewhat less likely to persist in S&E majors than men. The numbers in engineering are striking: "Only 29% of top undergraduate women remained in that major, compared with 82% of top undergraduate men" (Schroeder, (1998:75). Conversely, Adelman (1998) found that among top students in engineer- ing, the four-year degree completion rates for men and women were simi- lar. The debate centers, however, simply on whether male or female attri- tion is comparably higher. There is agreement that both men and women drop out of S&E, but because fewer women are in S&E to begin with, the impact may be larger for women. A large set of variables underlies attrition from S&E (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).3 These variables affect both men and women, but they may affect women differently. Without oversimplifying, models of attrition tend to begin with attributes of the individual--that is, both the skills and goals that a student brings to college. Models end with an outcome or behavior: either persistence or the decision to leave. In the middle is a complex interaction of the individual with the institutional environment and external forces. Central points are the interactive nature of the rela- tionship between the student and the institution (how a student fits into an institution), the role of multiple factors in predicting whether a student stays in S&E or not, and the longitudinal nature of the model--that is, students are constantly experiencing events, institutions are constantly making demands, and the decision-making process may be played out repeatedly over the course of a student's educational process (which is why some students may leave in their first term of college, while others leave just before graduating).4 3 Seymour and Hewitt (1997) further note that the relative weights of these variables may differ across particular S&E disciplines--for example, between engineering and science and mathematics. 4 Seymour and Hewitt (1997) note that switchers tend to give more reasons for switching than non-switchers give for staying--that is, students who switch out of S&E may do so for multiple reasons. An important consequence is that institutions may have to pursue mul- tiple intervention strategies to keep students in S&E, although some students find that the solving of one large problem can convince them to persist.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 51 At the universities visited, interviewees speculated about the causes of attrition of females. At one university interviewees noted some of the problems that could lead to the attrition of faculty or students, including a lack of female role models, young women's lack of knowledge about engineering, and the perception that "doing it all" is too hard. Similar views were voiced during other site visits. In fact, it was suggested that some younger women observe the If you're a female, you have to prove yourself worthy to get long hours, stress, and lack of family invited into study groups and time experienced by women academ- work on projects. ics and decide that "doing it all" is not --Undergraduate student, for them. during site visit What other factors account for the attrition of women students? Some re- searchers have pointed to the differ- ences in male and female student de- mographics as an important factor in the probability of completion of an S&E degree. According to Peter and Horn (2005:v) While women have increased their representation among younger, full- time students, who tend to be more successful in completing a college degree, women continue to represent 60 percent or more of students with characteristics that place them at a disadvantage in succeeding in postsecondary education. In particular, women make up 60 percent of students in the lowest 25 percent income level, 62 percent of students age 40 or older, 62 percent of students with children or dependents (among married or separated students), and 69 percent of single par- ents. All of these characteristics are associated with lower rates of persis- tence and completion in postsecondary education (e.g., Berkner, He, and Cataldi 2002). Another factor in the attrition of women students, as noted in Chapter 2, may be unequal student preparation. To reiterate: women are more likely to take such mathematics courses as geometry, algebra II, and trigo- nometry, whereas men are slightly more likely to take precalculus and calculus. Men may take more S&E prerequisite courses earlier than women. In addition, men are more likely to take physics and engineering, while women are more likely to take biology and chemistry (NSF, 2003: Appendix Table 1-1). Because mathematics is often viewed as a critical enabling course in science and engineering, it is important that women develop their mathematical skills prior to or early on in college. In fact, women may be at a relative disadvantage compared with men because of differences in mathematics preparation. Likewise, as noted in Chapter 2, female students interested in computer science sometimes have less expe- rience than their male peers. The overall concern is simply that college is
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52 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY hard enough. Inadequate preparation, while it can certainly be made up during college, may put additional pressures on students, leaving them more inclined to leave a program of study. That said, studies that com- pared similarly qualified male and female students have found similar levels of persistence. These studies suggest that during the early college years women tend to lose some self-confidence, self-esteem, and ambi- tions for an S&E career, while men gain these attributes--that is, the problem is not moving from high school to college, but rather the difficul- ties experienced in the early years of college (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). Even more important perhaps are the negative experiences at college that may afflict women students more often or to a greater degree than male students (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997). One negative experience is harassment. Harassment, including sexual harassment, occurs on univer- sity campuses to students, faculty, and staff. It is more likely to be di- rected at women. Indeed, each year usually brings new media reports of harassment lawsuits involving universities and university personnel (Fogg, 2004; Wilson, 2004a). Yet some harassment may go unreported. Regardless of whether harassment is occurring on a campus, if several students or faculty members perceive it to be happening, then it is a challenge to women's retention and advancement. That harassment had occurred on campus was intimated by interviewees during two of the site visits. At one university some faculty interviewees complained of sexual harassment, inappropriate comments about clothing, and patting on the head in the presence of undergradu- ates. At a second university some women students reported that they were harassed by male faculty. Yet all of the institutions selected for site visits had taken steps to be more female friendly. Another experience that may cause women to rethink majoring in S&E is the isolation of female students. Isolation may occur for several reasons. The most obvious is that female students are underrepresented in many S&E courses. However, this is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause. Rather, isolation occurs when students and faculty actions create such an outcome: male students may not want to work with female stu- dents; female students may assume male students do not want to work with them; faculty may segregate students. Yet another factor that may lead to greater female attrition is stu- dents' expectations of the future--not only the remainder of their under- graduate schooling, but also their likelihood of entering graduate school, what they can expect from graduate school, and their career outlook. The concern is that female students will hear more negatives than male stu- dents, including that S&E is overwhelmingly male and that they will not do as well. Lack of positive female role models may be held up as a factor under-
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 53 lying the attrition of female students. Of course, anyone can be a role model, but female students may view the absence of women faculty or the presence of unhappy female faculty as a sign that they are pursuing the wrong education. A final challenge for the retention of female students is the under- graduate S&E curriculum, which scholars argue is much less interesting for those students. Indeed, this has been true for some time: "Historically, curricular content and teaching techniques in the sciences and engineer- ing not only have done little to encourage girls and women to pursue their interests in these fields, but also have done damage, affecting girls and women negatively" (NSF, 1997). Busch-Vishniac and Jarosz (2004:258) describe how contemporary engineering curriculum may be less female friendly: The effects of a rigid segmentation of topics into courses with little com- munication among them are the isolation of most undergraduates from the engineering faculty until their 2nd or 3rd year, the presentation of a picture of engineering that is divorced from application until far into the curriculum, and distributed authority for the students that makes advis- ing and mentoring difficult. We expect engineering students to be so committed to the engineering endeavor from the time they set foot on a campus that they will pursue courses that offer no insight into engineer- ing as a profession for a minimum of a year, knowing that after this "hazing," there will be the reward of relevant classes. This sort of ap- proach selectively disadvantages women and minorities, because they are less likely to be exposed to engineering as a profession and to be encouraged to pursue engineering careers. For these groups, the struc- ture of our curriculum is downright unattractive, uninformative, and uninviting. All this leads to negative attitudes that push for attrition rather than persistence. Graduate Students Losing graduate students from S&E programs is a particular concern, since they have presumably already invested much in S&E education. Evidence suggests that there might be gender differences in completion rates. Duke University found that in the biological sciences men were more likely to complete their doctorates than women (76 percent versus 67 percent). But, men and women had similar completion rates in the physical sciences and engineering (Siegel, 2005). There are various rea- sons why graduate students might drop out of S&E programs. In a survey of 3,300 students in chemistry, computer science, electrical engineering,
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54 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY and physics conducted in 1993-1994, Fox (2001) found that women were less likely than men to report being taken seriously and respected by faculty, being comfortable speaking in group meetings, and collaborating with male graduate students and faculty. In addition, it appeared that men received more help than women did in completing activities, such as writing grant proposals, coauthoring publications, and learning to design research. Finally, women were more likely than men to report that the relationship with their adviser was one of "student-and-faculty" com- pared with "mentor-mentee" or "colleagues." Such outcomes could in- crease the chances that female students might leave an S&E program. Students leave a graduate program prior to completing a Ph.D. for various reasons that can be grouped into three categories: individual, institutional, and, perhaps the most important, the intersection of indi- vidual and institutional. Individual characteristics often relate to a student's prior preparation and expectations, compared with current ex- pectations about the program and expectations about future career pros- pects. Self-confidence and self-esteem also may be issues. However, some scholars believe that the focus on the student is overemphasized, that institutional and organizational characteristics need further scrutiny, and that ultimately these characteristics may be more important explanatory factors in attrition (e.g., Golde, 1998; Lovitts, 2001). Institutional factors include departmental funding, size of the gradu- ate program, and the demographic characteristics of the faculty (Ferrer de Valero, 2001). For example, the departure of a faculty member--some- thing students have no control over--may affect student retention and attrition. Departmental culture affects how comfortable students feel and is in part a function of the demographic makeup of faculty. Interactive factors primarily revolve around the socialization of stu- dents. Socialization includes relationships with faculty, especially the ad- viser and mentor, but also relationships with peers. Women's persistence at or attrition from graduate S&E programs may differ from those of men because interactive factors operate differently for women than for men or because the factors are not equally important to both men and women. Ferreira (2003) notes that in graduate school women may find a chilly climate, may face harassment, and may not be engaged by faculty in professional socialization. If women graduate students are having more negative experiences in graduate school than those faced by men, they may be more inclined to leave.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 55 BOX 3-1 Summary of Challenges Female students may be more likely to leave undergraduate and graduate S&E programs for the following reasons: The demographic characteristics of females make them more at risk for attrition. Women may have negative experiences, including marginalization, isola- tion, or harassment. For female undergraduates, the curricula may not be as engaging as for male undergraduates. The characteristics of graduate programs, including departmental culture, may favor male students. Women may face financial issues. Women may more likely have negative, unsupportive, or missing relation- ships with advisors or mentors. RETENTION STRATEGIES Retaining Undergraduate Students Many of the efforts to increase women's participation in science and engineering have focused on the entry point to academia, the under- graduate degree. The logic behind this emphasis is evident: a sufficient percentage of students must enter a university if a sufficient percentage is to move on into graduate studies and into academic employment. Al- though the transfer rate of undergraduates to the graduate path is likely to remain less than 100 percent, the argument is compelling that higher percentages at entry are necessary if higher percentages of students are to move to the more advanced levels. BOX 3-2 Undergraduate Retention Strategies Have the institution signal the importance of women. Strengthen student advising. Establish mentoring programs. Change pedagogy. Increase engagement with students. Increase professional socialization.
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56 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY There are other arguments as well for concentrating efforts on under- graduates. They are the largest cohort of students educated in academia, and the quality of the undergraduate student cohort is often the basis for judging quality among peer institutions. Moreover, accrediting require- ments, and the fact that undergraduate education is usually administered by a central office, allow changes to be widely implemented across an institution. Thus it is not surprising that many institutions have concen- trated on their undergraduate programs when considering initiatives to increase the participation of women. Signaling the Importance of Women At the institutional level, many different indicators can set the climate and signal that the institution as a whole is committed to advancing and retaining women. A relatively simple and low-cost step is to create and then exploit lines of communication between administrators and students. Simply communicating with female students that the institution values their presence can go a long way toward fighting the isolation and marginalization that female students might feel. Again, as noted in Chap- ter 2, any steps the institution can take to create a sense of inclusiveness-- through outreach efforts by university officials and administrators di- rected toward students--would be welcome. However, for an initiative to succeed in an academic setting, support must be forthcoming from all levels of the faculty and administration. Indeed, initiatives must proceed through a campus-accepted approval process and viewed as a priority at the highest levels. One example is the presidential-appointed diversity council described in Chapter 2. Univer- sities can create an office or appoint an official to deal with issues of concern to women. Indeed, many universities already have such offices or officials. Committees on the status of women, campus ombudsmen, and similar groups offer protections for students, places to which stu- dents can turn for help, advocacy mechanisms for female students, and entry points for providing further resources. It is imperative, however, that such groups advertise their presence clearly and widely. One group should be charged with monitoring student attrition, or, alternatively, such a task could be carried out by a senior official in the university's administration. For example, Carnegie Mellon University conducted hundreds of interviews with male and female students in computer sci- ence over a four-year period. Students were interviewed once per semes- ter. These data collected helped the university to identify obstacles to students' success (Blum, 2001). Finally, on the policy side institutions can signal the value of female students by crafting female-friendly policies and generally improving
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 57 the campus climate. Many such policies are in fact gender neutral, such as efforts to enhance campus security, which can certainly benefit any student. However, some policies and practices are specifically designed for female students, such as the creation of dedicated housing for female students in S&E (this initiative is described in more detail later in this chapter). Such a policy clearly indicates the willingness of the university to commit significant resources to supporting and advancing women students, and it acts as a mechanism for fighting isolation and marginalization. Another policy might be one of ensuring that "all stu- dents have a safe physical environment in which to work" (Cuny and Aspray, 2001:15). Yet another policy pursuit might be offering sexual harassment and diversity training to faculty, staff, and students. The chancellor of one university made the improvement of campus "climate" a top priority. The central goals of the climate initiative were to create new opportunities for frank and open conversation and to deter- mine how the climate issue is manifested on campus. According to the chancellor, a desirable climate adds ethnic and gender inclusiveness, as well as intellectual diversity. In fact, an improved climate benefits all students, faculty, and staff. Interviewees at one site visit mentioned that their university, in an attempt to improve the campus climate, undertook a comprehensive effort to make sexual harassment a university commu- nity concern. The effort was vigorously endorsed publicly by the admin- istration and refined and renewed with an array of campus resources. Information sessions were offered to all employees; sexual harassment contact persons were identified and trained in every school, college, and division; and a cross-campus team of facilitators presented information sessions to the deans, administrative teams, academic departments, and support units. Finally, as Cuny and Aspray (2001) note, universities and depart- ments should publicize their successes in recruiting and retaining female students. Such visibility is no less important than the policies and prac- tices undertaken to do so. Strengthening Student Advising Advising is a process that continues throughout a student's time of study at an institution. Advisers can both offer positive encouragement and serve as a frontline of defense for students experiencing problems (Lau, 2003). Cuny and Aspray (2001:15) suggest that universities "de- velop structural mechanisms that ensure that all students have good ad- vising. Do not leave students at the mercy of a single, randomly assigned person. Have the department provide more than one advisor, perhaps a mentor or academic advisor in addition to a thesis advisor. Have the
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58 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY faculty review each student's progress every year. Have the students con- fidentially review their advisors each year. Make it easy for students to switch advisors." Seymour and Hewitt (1997:30) note that one of the dis- tinguishing characteristics of "survivors"--those who stayed in S&E in college--was serendipity: "Serendipity . . . played a part in persistence, often in the form of intervention by faculty at a critical point in the student's academic or personal life." One way to increase the chances of this happening is through continual advising and mentoring. Establishing Mentoring Programs Women role models can have a significant influence on women stu- dents, particularly as they move into upper-level courses and begin think- ing about career choices.5 Visible female leadership can serve as an ex- ample of how an academic career choice can work for women. At the graduate student and faculty levels, role models can provide students with guideposts for navigating their way down a scientific career path. If such role models are not available on campus, or the field of study sends a majority of its graduates into nonacademic employment sectors (such as industry or government), the university can bring women role models to campus to give insights into careers outside academia. Another alterna- tive may be the use of web-based mentoring to increase students' access to female science professionals "even if they are geographically dispersed and inaccessible locally" (Packard, 2003:54). However, where both op- tions are available, face-to-face mentoring and advising may be prefer- able to "distance mentoring." Mentoring plays a significant role in whether students advance in science and engineering. For students who may be the first in their fami- lies to attend college, mentoring may lead to the pursuit of graduate study. However, successful mentoring is a challenge. An important element is the need to separate mentoring from oversight. For under- graduates, the authority of the faculty member who may have decision- making power over grades may be too intimidating a factor in a mentoring relationship. Mentoring should not be equated with formal advising, which most campuses have in some form. In undergraduate advising, faculty are as- 5Mentors of either gender, though, can be effective (Whitten et al., 2003). Good advice for mentors can be found in Chapter 5, "Mentoring and Being Mentored," of Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Post Doctoral and New Faculty by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2004, available at http://www.hhmi.org/grants/pdf/labmgmt/book.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2005.
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60 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY A provost contrasted this list of activities with the lack of women's pro- grams elsewhere: "In most other departments and schools there is noth- ing for women." The guide Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering prepared by the National Academies suggests that faculty members mentoring undergraduates concentrate on building a respectful mentoring relationship and responding to various student issues (COSEPUP, 1997). To build trust, this guide suggests that faculty · take students seriously, · do not dictate answers, · be frank and direct, · help students to develop self-esteem, · invite other mentors, · address fears without belittling, and · meet on "neutral ground." Mentors should help students with, among other things, early fears and concerns (especially for those students who are the first in their fam- ily to attend college) about ability and preparation; coursework and aca- demic goals; undergraduate research experience; and whether or not to pursue graduate study. Making Pedagogical Changes The argument for changing the content or the way S&E is taught to promote diversity rests on the assumption that men and women learn differently or appreciate content differently. Hypothetically, it could be said that female students do not fare as well in courses in which the manner of instruction relies heavily on group projects and group study, because female students tend to find themselves on the outside of such groups.6 Or, female students fare less well in S&E courses that fail to connect the material taught to real-world applications. Farrell (2002:31) points out that the "conventional wisdom holds that women are more inclined to study subjects they find socially relevant." Studies back up this wisdom (e.g., Busch-Vishniac and Jarosz, 2004). Universities may find that, steps to make curricula more applied and more relevant result in greater interest from women in that curricula. 6Alternatively, female students may do better in team-oriented courses, assuming they are included, than in other types of courses.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 61 Finally, because technology is playing a larger role in the classroom We need to do a better job [of and being applied in novel ways to de- introducing freshmen to inter- liver course content to the students, it esting material]. Our intro is is important to ask whether men and pretty hard core: program- women benefit differently from such ming, data structures. More changes. At one university visited, the applied courses come in jun- ior and senior years, but that's faculty considered making changes to a long time to wait. both content and instruction: --Department chair, during a site visit · A course in discrete mathemat- ics, a subject foreign to most new women students, was expanded to in- clude more motivational examples and "grand challenge" problems to illustrate the relevance of the subject. This approach is believed to appeal to women students and to teach "comput- ing with a purpose." · A faculty member who teaches the first required course in serious programming said she and her colleagues were introducing interesting applications, such as game planning, and bringing more guest speakers to talk about applications. It is also important to note that efforts to change pedagogy and course content can diminish student learning outcomes. For example, Busch- Vishniac and Jarosz (2004:256) found that "most diversity initiatives aimed at the undergraduate engineering student population have started with a curriculum that is known to be unattractive to women and minorities and have tried using `add-ons' or minor changes to rectify the situation." They argue that this approach fails because the add-ons simply place more pressure on the students, but do not fundamentally fix the problems in the curriculum. In view of this problem, it is still not entirely clear what changes would be beneficial. Some of the obvious changes that could help to re- tain any student including women are offering supplemental instruction (e.g., tutoring services) and having faculty endorse and encourage the use of student support services (Amenkhienan and Kogan, 2004). Increasing Engagement with Female Students Retaining women students, particularly in the physical sciences and engineering, has proved to be an ongoing challenge for many institutions. One of the critical points is the second year of the degree program when any student prone to transfer often does so. Of the many possible reasons
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62 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY for attrition, some reasons identified by women are a sense of isolation, because there are so few other women in their area of study, and difficulty in finding a study or project group. Some institutions have established programs that specifically address this weak point. The first policy re- sponse by institutions is to find a mechanism for bringing female students together. Such a step can create a more supportive environment and make it easier for female students to access resources and for faculty support to reach the students. Site visits to successful physics departments have sug- gested that identifying and engaging potential majors early on is critical in retaining students (Whitten et al., 2003). In many undergraduate programs women are a very small fraction of the enrollment. The programs at one institution were targeted toward building a community of women so that women students did not feel isolated. A teaching assistant, widely recognized to be the best, was as- signed to the women in the engineering section. Some male students expressed resentment, however, at the perceived special treatment for women, wondering why there were no "men in engineering" programs. A woman student replied, "There is; it's called [name of institution]." One university created a "women in science and engineering" pro- gram in response to the disproportionate loss of women from science majors during the first two years and to women's feelings of isolation. Several years later the program was housing over 100 female freshmen and sophomore science and engineering majors in their own residence hall. Women in the program take important foundation courses together and have special lab and discussion sections, access to lab instructors at regular office hours in their dorm, and a nearby study partner. They are able to know one another, meet women working in diverse technical fields, attend special study sections, explore career possibilities, and at- tend special cultural events. According to faculty advisers, students in the program earn higher science grades than students in the program who do not attend the special study sections and students outside the program overall. According to the anecdotal evidence, most of those who join tend to stay in the program and build relationships with other students. Special housing for women in science and engineering exists in sev- eral colleges and universities. The first residence hall for women in S&E was established in 1989 by Douglass College at Rutgers, the State Univer- sity of New Jersey.7 Since that time, universities such as the University of California, Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, Purdue University, and University of Michigan have dedicated space for women in science and engineering. By locating women together in a shared space, it becomes 7 See Douglass College: The Douglass Project, at http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~dougproj/. Accessed February 27, 2006.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 63 easier for the university to offer events and programs that engage female students, such as lectures, dinners, and tutoring sessions (Black, 1999). For example, the University of Arizona created a living-learning environ- ment for women in science, engineering, math, and technology that offers programs and services such as mentoring, tutoring, study groups, writing assistance, and social and cultural events.8 A complementary approach to such university-led programs is a bottom-up approach, such as female S&E students joining a professional society (which could, of course, also be started by interested faculty and staff). For example, in 1999 female engineering and computer science students at Baylor University organized a student section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). In an assessment of the benefits of this organi- zation, Fry and Allgood (2002) found support for the hypothesis that SWE membership was associated with increased retention of female students. Dozens of universities have Women in Engineering (WIE) or Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) programs. These programs undertake a large variety of activities, including recruitment and outreach, scholar- ships, mentoring, career development and exploration, study skills, social opportunities, support, and publicity (Knight and Cunningham, 2004). Research--although still being developed, refined, and implemented-- has suggested that these programs are beneficial (Marra and Bogue, 2004). Whitten et al. (2003) have suggested additional steps faculty can take to "encourage the growth of a warm and inclusive student culture": · a student lounge · a tutorial service · lab assistants · seminars · a chapter of a professional society or club · social activities Increasing Professional Socialization Universities can help to foster a sense of "being a scientist or engi- neer" among students in three ways: (1) through research experience, (2) through presentations, and (3) through participation in mentoring, tutor- ing, or recruitment efforts. The research exposure of undergraduates in S&E could be quite flexible lasting for weeks, a semester, a year, or longer. As Gonzalez (2001:1624) notes, undergraduate research is already a com- 8See University of Arizona, Residence Life, Campus Housing, WISE, at http://www.life. arizona.edu/prospectiveresidents/wise.asp. Accessed April 6, 2005.
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64 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY mon occurrence on campus: "Faculty members are integrating under- graduate students into the research enterprise in a more deliberate fash- ion than ever before. Undergraduate research programs are proliferating, and undergraduate research conferences and journals are becoming a permanent fixture on the university's landscape." Most important, under- graduate research is beneficial to the students who participate, to faculty, and to the institution (Lopatto, 2005). Under the heading "How Can Undergraduates Be Involved in Fac- ulty Research?" Lancy (2003:91) raises some instructive questions: · Are undergraduates involved in the faculty member's research? Is the work treated as an apprenticeship, with tasks graded in level of responsibility? · Are graduate and undergraduate students brought together in a collaborative atmosphere where the entire research enterprise is the guided discussion? Is the undergraduate given increasingly complex tasks beyond washing test tubes? · In writing grants, are undergraduate research assistants written into the budget? In writing National Science Foundation grants, is a Re- search Experiences for Undergraduates supplement requested (available at http://www.nsf.gov/search97cgi/vtopic/)? · Is the faculty member aware of and does he or she take advantage of any campus programs that provide funds to support undergraduate research? · Do students participate in data analysis, write-up, presentation, and publication? · Do undergraduates travel to conferences with the faculty mentor? Are they socialized into the profession or discipline? · Are students involved in consulting done by the faculty member? As for the second aspect of professional socialization, presenting stu- dent research, Kinkead (2003) suggests that undergraduate research be "celebrated." This can be done on campus, at university-hosted confer- ences, at professional society meetings, and in publications. Some col- leges and universities host student conferences. A very competitive ex- ample is the University of California (UC)'s effort to showcase undergraduate student research as part of its UC Day. A competition is held to select two outstanding abstracts describing research projects from each of the eight undergraduate UC campuses.9 9For more information, see University of California--UC Research Opportunities for Undergraduates at http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/research/undergrad.html. Ac- cessed April 6, 2005.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 65 Finally, students could take an active role in recruiting new under- graduates. An event tends to be successful when students (undergradu- ate and graduate) help to plan the event; when students serve as demon- strators in projects; when the demonstration projects used have real-world applications; and when some capacity is provided for a hands-on interac- tion. An additional component is industry participation. Corporations are generally looking for the recruits who can best contribute to their organi- zation. An early acquaintance with a company, especially if it offers an internship or co-op program with the department, often produces the best recruits for the company. Retaining Graduate Students As noted in Chapter 2, the department plays a particularly significant role in the lives of graduate students. The faculty, especially the thesis adviser, has a large impact on the retention of women graduate students. "A student's relationship with his or her adviser is probably the single most critical factor in determining who stays and who leaves" (Lovitts, 2001:270). The thesis adviser can ensure that women graduate students are included in meetings and seminars, as well as social activities cen- tered on the research group. The adviser can be watchful of practices that marginalize women students and their contributions. Women graduate students should be afforded at least the same resources afforded male graduate students. BOX 3-3 Graduate Student Retention Strategies Have the institution signal the importance of women. Improve advising and mentoring. Increase engagement with students. Increase professional socialization. Make funding more secure. Provide students with constructive feedback. Signaling the Importance of Women Institutions can indicate support of graduate students in general and of women in a number of ways. As discussed in Chapter 2, institutions provide infrastructure such as housing and health insurance.
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66 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY The department chair can lead the effort to offer the motivational signaling of support for women graduate students. The chair can rein- force institutional policy on sexual harassment and initiate and institu- tionalize departmental policies that facilitate retention. Cuny and Aspray (2001) suggest that institutions broaden the culture of their departments--in traditional, male-oriented departments, women may feel less at home-- and that departments seek to be transparent in their policies, so students do not have to be part of an informal social network to learn about such matters. Lovitts (2001:265) prescribes self-assessment: "To address the prob- lem of attrition, universities and departments--especially ones with high student and faculty attrition rates--need to assess their cultures and their climates." She goes on to point out that "universities can best learn about the underlying causes of attrition by opening up channels of communica- tion with current and exiting graduate students. In particular, universities can better learn about students' concerns and discontents by sponsoring focus group discussions with currently enrolled graduate students on an ongoing basis." Improving Mentoring "Mentoring may be the most important variable related to academic and career success for graduate students" (Boyle and Boice, 1998:90). Most thesis advisers also serve as mentors for their graduate students, guiding them through graduate school and pointing out the career paths that lie beyond. Ideally, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement, but the super- visory role that thesis advisers play can also inject some conflict into the mentor-mentee relationship. Mentoring has already been examined at length by the National Academies (COSEPUP, 1997). In that report, the authors note several ways in which mentors may be able to assist gradu- ate students: · helping students choose a graduate school · helping students choose an adviser · helping students select an appropriate degree program · planning an appropriate curriculum · choosing a thesis committee · helping students adjust to graduate school (e.g., teaching them organizational or time management skills) · assisting in a student's professional growth The Committee on Graduate Education of the Association of American Universities (1998) noted that "faculty mentors should confer with stu-
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 67 dents frequently to assess students' progress, and should provide the de- Within [a few] years of when I partment with periodic assessments on arrived, they hired seven progress to the degree." Moreover, "in- women; we're now a third of stitutions and departments should the department. This critical clearly affirm the importance of faculty mass is essential. Graduate students say this is the best mentoring through policy guidelines thing about our department-- and incentives." Departments can facili- having all these different role tate mentoring and advising by estab- models. lishing programs in which students can --Faculty member, socialize with all the faculty and ad- during site visit vanced graduate students (Boyle and Boice, 1998). Mentoring should be a val- ued part of a faculty member's activi- ties, for which faculty could be rewarded. Increasing Professional Socialization Much like undergraduates, but more so, female graduate students need to experience and enjoy professional socialization. First, new gradu- ate students should be socialized into the expectations of graduate educa- tion, including theses, examinations, and dissertations, but in a collegial way involving faculty and advanced graduate students (Lovitts, 2001). Second, all graduate students could be exposed to the research experi- ence. Universities could, for example, monitor students receiving research assistantships and teaching assistantships to ensure women are not dis- proportionately receiving the latter. Universities also could monitor in- stances in which graduate students are able to place their names on scien- tific papers that incorporate research to which they contributed. Indeed, research productivity is often measured in terms of citations, and it is important for women to work on research projects and share in efforts to present findings at conferences or in publication. Finally, all students could be encouraged to join professional associations and societies, to attend their meetings, and to present papers or posters. Efforts to foster collegiality may benefit from placing students in communal offices (Boyle and Boice, 1998). Collegiality is needed as well between graduate classes, not just within one class of students. Advanced students can serve as informal advisers to more junior students. Providing Secure Funding for Graduate Students The time that is required to complete a Ph.D. degree in science and technology seems to be growing. Thus insufficient funding may contrib-
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68 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY ute to attrition. Departments need to find ways to guarantee funding for the duration of a graduate student's enrollment (within reasonable lim- its). "Gender differences are small in certain indicators of financial sup- port for graduate training" (Fox, 2001:657), but these measures are often quantitative and do not measure qualitative issues. Departments could assess what types of funding graduate students receive and what student outcomes are linked to different types of funding. Providing Constructive Feedback Graduate students are more likely to complete their requirements faster within a programmatic framework that includes and fosters timely feedback and greater structure (Boyle and Boice, 1998). Departments could provide greater structure for students by establishing more regular meet- ings and setting some deadlines for students, such as to find an adviser. Finally, department faculty can endeavor to offer quick feedback on a student's progress. Retaining Postdoctoral Fellows A recent report by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy at the National Academies (COSEPUP, 2000:99) recommended 10 steps that advisers, institutions, funding organizations, and disciplinary societies could take to aid postdoctoral fellows: 1. Award institutional recognition, status, and compensation com- mensurate with the postdocs' contributions to the research enterprise. 2. Develop distinct policies and standards for postdocs, modeled on those available for graduate students and faculty. 3. Develop mechanisms for frequent and regular communication be- tween postdocs and their advisers, institutions, funding organizations, and disciplinary societies. 4. Monitor and provide formal evaluations (at least annually) of the performance of postdocs. 5. Ensure that all postdocs have access to health insurance, regard- less of funding source, and to institutional services. 6. Set limits for total time as a postdoc (of approximately five years, summing time at all institutions), with clearly described exceptions as appropriate. 7. Invite the participation of postdocs when creating standards, defi- nitions, and conditions for appointments. 8. Provide substantive career guidance to improve postdocs' ability to prepare for regular employment.
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RETAINING WOMEN STUDENTS 69 9. Improve the quality of data both for postdoctoral working condi- tions and for the population of postdocs in relation to employment pros- pects in research. 10. Take steps to improve the transition of postdocs to regular career positions. CONCLUSION Enrolling women students in science and technology degree programs is not enough; universities must do what is possible, within the context of limited resources, to retain them through the rigors of an S&E degree program, the challenges of a thesis project, and the search for a research or academic career. Institutions must continually remind students that there are promising careers in S&E, but doing so requires better commu- nications among institutions, departments, and faculty, on the one hand, and students, on the other. A consistent message of support, backed up by a commitment from faculty, can go a long way to supporting students during their journey.
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70 TO RECRUIT AND ADVANCE WOMEN STUDENTS AND FACULTY BOX 3-4 Summary of Strategies for Retaining Women Undergraduate, Graduate, and Postdoctoral Students What faculty can do: · Advise and mentor prospective and current female undergraduate, gradu- ate, and postdoctoral students. · Conduct outreach to K-12 institutions to help prepare women for college and to combat negative attitudes about the place of women in science and engineering. · Advise and encourage female students in science and engineering groups. · Invite female students to participate in research opportunities. · Participate in bridge programs, campus visits, lectures, and seminars. · Encourage female students to give presentations at conferences. · Make curricula more practically relevant and ask whether all students are equally aided by different instructional techniques and technologies. What department chairs can do: · Create an image of the department as female friendly and feature this im- age in promotional materials and on the department's web site. · Communicate with faculty about the importance of diversity in recruiting. · Support and reinforce a faculty member's commitment to advising and en- couraging female students and postdocs through service awards and recognition during tenure and promotion reviews. · Monitor the allocation of resources to students and survey students' opinions. · Meet with faculty to assess the relationship of curricular content and instruc- tion methods to student learning outcomes for male and female students. What deans and provosts can do: · Devote resources to female undergraduate students--mentoring, advising, tutoring services, and if feasible, separate housing. · Craft female-friendly policies on campus. · Monitor departments' progress in increasing the percentage of female students and postdocs. · Conduct school-wide assessments of status of women. What presidents can do: · Publicly state the institution's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness whenever possible. · Create an institutional structure, such as a standing committee, to address diversity issues within the student body. Charge that committee with monitoring diversity across the institution and with making recommendations to increase diversity. · Demonstrate the institution's commitment by meeting with female students and postdocs and devoting resources to programs that assist them.
Representative terms from entire chapter: