Research Finds an Easy Way to Increase Women’s Participation in STEM Courses

According to the National Science Foundation, women make up close to 60 percent of all degree earners in the United States. But women earn only about 20 percent of all degrees in computer science and engineering.

Colleges and universities have struggled to increase the enrollment of women in technology courses. And retention rates of women who take the first step into technology are also not good. So that needs to be addressed as well.

NaLette Brodnax, an assistant professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., came up with a simple and inexpensive approach to increasing women’s participation in STEM courses.

Dr. Brodnax created a set of brochures that were integrated into the advising process during freshman orientation at a large state university. Each of the brochures organized course selection information in a way that students could see and understand how a technology class would align with their degree requirements and with their interests. All of the students who received the specially designed brochure were more likely to sign up for a technology course, the study found.

“Many women, when they enter college, are interested in helping professions such as nursing, or they might go into the life sciences to pursue a track in medicine,” Dr. Brodnax says. “When surveyed, these women don’t really see a connection between computer science and engineering and what they would be doing in those helping professions. Part of the challenge is to help them become aware that technology is pervasive, and it doesn’t really matter which field they’re interested in going into — technology skills can help them in whatever field, whether it’s in a helping profession or not.”

Dr. Brodnax joined the faculty at Georgetown University in 2018. She is a graduate of Ohio State University, where she majored in finance. Dr. Brodnax earned a master of public policy degree from Loyola University in Chicago and a Ph.D. in public policy and political science at Indiana University.

Below is a video of Dr. Brodnax discussing her research.

Filed Under: Research/StudySTEM Fields


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