Grads to go into STEM fields

Elizabeth Smith

The Class of 2013 is poised to increase in the percentage of women in STEM fields with one-third of CSH’s graduates planning to pursue science or mathematics degrees, according to a Broadview survey.

STEM — an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math subjects — fields see a disproportionately high number of men to women in the post-graduation workforce. Women hold 24 percent of jobs in STEM fields, but make up 48 percent of the total work force, according to an Economics and Statistics Administration study.

“The foundation of computer science provided at Convent instilled in me a love of programming and computer science in general,” Kimmy Pace, who plans to major in computer science at Boston College, said.

Pace will be a minority in her field. Only 18 percent of graduates are awarded a degree in computer and information sciences, according to a 2010 study by the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

“People need women in these fields to shed a new light on the material as well as to give more diversity and inspire other women and girls to be interested in the field,” Pace said.

“Taking classes like advanced math, advanced science or computer science helps girls to see ‘Hey, this is something I can do,’” Doug Grant, who has taught computer science for 43 years, said. “If we didn’t have those opportunities, the girls would never know.”

Convent students are required to take three years of sciences, four years of math and at least a semester of computer programming.

The availability of courses — and their teachers — have had a strong impact on what students desire to pursue, according to senior Danielle Pulizzano.

“After junior year, I realized the sciences were my passion,” Pulizzano, who will be studying environmental science next fall at the University of San Francisco, said. “Freshman year I fell in absolute love with [Marissa Orso’s] biology class, which sparked my initial love for the life sciences. In my junior year, I took AP Environmental Science, which really alerted me to all the environmental problems that our world faces.”

Despite sexual biases in male-dominated fields, women should feel confident enough to pursue a degree in STEM, according to Alison Groeger, Ph.D. (’00), who works as a regulatory documentation scientist in pharmacovigilance at Genentech.

“Women tend to approach things differently in general,” Groeger said. “Part of it may be social conditioning and part of it is genetic makeup — the way the female brain is wired. Women are much better multitaskers in the lab.”

Finding a mentor is one of the biggest challenges for women in STEM occupations, according to Groeger.

“Young women don’t see many successful role models in higher positions in STEM fields,” Groeger said. “This sends messages that are unconsciously or consciously internalized as signs that women are either not fully accepted in these higher positions or that women do not like the personal lifestyle dictated by advancing in these career paths.”

A female mentor who has been in the field can explain the ways of getting along in a male-dominated profession, according to Groeger.

“She’ll inspire you to move forward, will have had experiences that are similar to yours, will use her experience and insight to help you succeed,” Groeger said.

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