STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is on the minds of many these days -- from the president of the country to educators and employers. One puzzling question remains, "How do we encourage more women into STEM careers?" And while this question remains unanswered, the good news is that women's colleges have excelled at educating women in these fields for more than 100 years, and have added STEM programs along the way. Women's colleges are resolute in their dedication to the task at hand and have a track record for preparing students to start a STEM career or to obtain an advanced degree.
The even better news is that more and more STEM girls are discovering this hidden college treasure. Once high school girls become aware of the supportive, nurturing, focused, research-based environments, they understand how a women's college will benefit them and their STEM career goals.
Christine Hamilton, a first-year student at Smith College is sold on a women's college, and this is one of the reasons she's attending one:
Smith College is unique because it is an all-women's liberal arts school that also has an engineering major... I had several reasons for choosing Smith College. One was the STRIDE program Smith has, which allows freshmen and sophomores to work on a research project with a professor as part of a work-study program. I know that will be an amazing opportunity for me. I will be working in the Spatial Analysis Laboratory taking my own low aerial photography of Smith College. Getting to work on research for my first two years at college is a unique opportunity. I also think that attending an all-women's college in itself is a unique opportunity... I am hoping to go into alternative energy after getting my engineering degree at Smith.
In addition to on-campus, early research programs, external internships are powerful experiences for students. Here again, women's colleges excel at arranging study opportunities for their students. Consider the Elizabeth R. Griffin Internship at Agnes Scott College -- a yearly internship with Dr. Julia Hilliard in the Viral Immunology Lab at Georgia State on behalf of the Elizabeth R. Griffin Research Foundation. The focus of this non-profit organization is zoonotic diseases -- diseases that are transmitted from animal to humans.
Or a summer internship in Iceland. This summer, Bayley Lawrence, '14, and Delor Sander, '13, joined, " a group of freshwater ecologists from the Biology Department at St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, MN, traveling to Iceland this summer to study the effect of temperature on nitrogen fixation rates in geothermally active streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. We are collaborating with a group of scientists from the U.S. and Iceland in our research."
Sue Turjman, an incoming first-year student at Mount St. Mary's College, looks forward to the mentoring she will receive. This is one reason she's attending a women's college. Sue's goal is to become a physician, and she knows that keeping focused is critical. "I know that my professors will push me to my greatest ability, and it won't matter that I'm a woman wanting a male-dominated profession... The Mount will give me an edge. I hope that going to a women's college will even boost my grades without the little distractions."
Individual and community mentoring take place at women's colleges across the country. Take for example, Agnes Scott College's GEMS program (Generating Excellence in Math and Science). As a part of GEMS, incoming first-year STEM students are supported in a residential learning community where additional support and education take place. The program includes extra academic support, workshops and mentoring programs along with external activities such as field trips around the Atlanta area -- all helpful as these young women transition from high school to college.
Courtney Stevens, an incoming first-year animal science major, is attending the women's college of Rutgers University, Douglass Residential College and wants to be a veterinarian: "Majoring in math, science or engineering takes a lot of studying, focus and a good support system and the women of Douglass provide that. That is why I knew that Douglass was the perfect choice for me."
Jamie Wooding, a Douglass engineering major, adds:
The Douglass Residential College has many programs and opportunities available only to its women in the STEM majors. I learned that with the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering, I would receive individual advising, mentoring, exclusive research programs, professional development workshops, leadership training and many more opportunities as a Douglass engineer. Douglass Residential College also provides many career development opportunities through its Extern Program that connects students with a Douglass Alumna for a one to two week experience where students gain professional experience and continue to network and build professional relationships. Douglass places a strong focus on women's leadership and prepares women to step into the workplace with the initiative to gain positions of leadership. For engineering specifically, there is the Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community -- a group of 24 like-minded women receiving additional mentoring and tutoring and a special Engineering Exploration course that replaces the traditional Engineering Orientation course required of all engineering students.
De'Jahnna Crockett is confident in her decision to attend a women's college, "When I chose a women's college I knew that it was the right choice because compared to the other schools out there, in my opinion they didn't display a bond that a women's college displayed. This bond was an example of unity as well as determination among women and for me, it sold me, because I so wanted to be a part of it. Now I am at a women's college, and I intend to be a part of this unified bond that I so admire." De'Jahnna is attending Stephens College and has her sight set on becoming an oncology pediatric physician.
Women's colleges provide an empowering environment for their students to be actively involved in STEM. Disproving all the silly myths about women in science, these young women of science and technology focus on what they want: The best possible environment to pursue their career dreams, a place they feel is best-suited for them to thrive, a college with top-notch academics and a college that will prepare them to continue with their studies or launch a career. I know firsthand that they won't be disappointed in their decision, and I'm thrilled with their choices.
And this is why I continue to encourage all college-bound high school girls to discover the world of women's colleges: Research the colleges, visit the campus, talk with the professors and students, then decide. Who knows, you also might decide that a women's college is YOUR best fit. Get started now by visiting my blog where I have a list of all United States-based women's colleges.