Guest blogger: Laura Palumbo
Chemistry & Physics Librarian/Science Data Specialist
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
The recent post in this blog on the lack of self-efficacy of women in STEM reflects the findings of much of the current literature: that women tend to underestimate their abilities in math and related STEM fields. Encouragement from parents, teachers, and faculty can help change this self-perception. In a 2014 Google white paper, Women Who Choose Computer Science- What Really Matters, research showed “. . . that encouragement and exposure are key controllable indicators for whether or not young women decide to pursue a Computer Science degree” (p. 2). With facts like these in mind, this past Fall I opted to teach a one-credit seminar for freshmen, along with our engineering librarian, titled “Closing the Gap: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.”
These seminars, named Byrne Seminars after the family who donated the funds to create them in 2007, allow new students at Rutgers to explore a variety of fields of research, taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty who are passionate about their subjects. For our seminar, we decided that our goals would be to enable students to explore career opportunities in STEM; learn about past and present contributions of women in STEM; understand the various reasons for the existence of the ongoing gender gap in STEM; and as a final project, create Wikipedia entries for women in STEM. Fifteen enthusiastic students completed our first seminar.
The lack of representation of women in Wikipedia was noticed by feminists such as Adrienne Wadewitz, who began encouraging women to edit Wikipedia. By having our students become editors and creators of entries for women in STEM, we have raised awareness of this issue, and provided a small measure of correction. Of course, being librarians we didn’t neglect the opportunities for information literacy instruction during this exercise! Several good resources for teaching with Wikipedia exist through the Wikimedia Foundation, as well as articles by librarians who are using Wikipedia to teach information literacy.
In addition to this project, we had students review and discuss the literature around the gender gap in STEM fields. Concurrent with this, we arranged for our students to visit the labs of two of our female scientists at Rutgers, and brought in women who are working in STEM industries as guest speakers. By exploring the literature around the persistent gender gap in STEM, and by combining this with exposure to successful women scientists, we are providing encouragement which we hope will lead to improved self-efficacy for a new class of future STEM leaders.
Thanks to Laura for sharing her inspiring work on STEM retention. If anyone else has an idea, service, or program to share, I’d be happy to post it on Science Retention Librarian. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.