Professors urged to help more women get science degrees

American women have the ability and educational preparation to graduate from college with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree, but they are still underrepresented in so-called STEM undergraduate fields, according to a new survey.

Women, the survey says, "come to college poised for success but fail to graduate with STEM degrees."

The survey, done by the Bayer Corp., queried professors and university chairs from 200 American research schools. It said women and underrepresented minorities -- in other words, non-Asian minorities -- are often weeded out of STEM-related fields early on because of the rigor of the introductory courses.

"Too often, we in higher education believe high quality is related to how many students are weeded out of STEM courses," said Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in a statement.

"Instead, the emphasis should be on rigorous course work coupled with support, together leading to larger numbers of students succeeding academically."

More than 80 percent of STEM-related department chairs "view females to be the most adequately prepared academically when they enter college to complete studies and graduate with STEM degrees."

But men are still more likely to end up with a degree in agricultural sciences, biology, computer science, engineering or math.

Bayer's study suggests universities, as the "gatekeepers" that weed out students and confer STEM degrees, have an obligation to better support and retain women and minorities who pursue undergraduate science and technology degrees.

"The major story that emerges from this survey is the failure of universities, STEM departments and professors to recognize and understand the role they play in undermining or promoting women and underrepresented minority students' success" in science, technology, engineering and math fields, said Mae Jemison, the first black female astronaut, and also a Bayer science outreach spokeswoman.

"STEM" is a trendy buzzword with educators, business leaders and politicians, including President Barack Obama, saying the country needs to improve both its STEM teaching corps and the quality of its science and tech students, as a way of maintaining a competitive workforce.

Reach Bill Toland at btoland(at)post-gazette.com. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com

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