It’s Not Rocket Science: 4 Ways Community Colleges Can Help Women in STEM
Twenty years after Barbie lamented that “math class is tough!” the discussion around girls’ aptitude in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and women’s place in the STEM workforce continues. And according to AAUW’s newest research report, community colleges play an increasingly important role in that discussion.
It makes sense, considering that community colleges now enroll the majority of women in higher education. Compared to four-year public or private institutions, community colleges are less expensive, and they are more flexible for women juggling families and jobs. These schools also offer certificates and associate degrees so students can prepare for STEM jobs that may not require a bachelor’s degree.
While community colleges are making great strides, they can do more by providing support systems for women in STEM:
- Don’t perpetuate the stereotypes. Educators and advisors should be aware of gender stereotypes and how they can negatively influence a student’s experience. As a key point of contact for students, academic advisers can play a proactive role by promoting nontraditional careers like STEM to female students.
- Build a peer community. Ask women who have studied STEM to talk about their experiences or even mentor students.
- Remember that images matter. Just as real-life role models and mentors are important, images in the classroom or on a website can also positively or negatively influence a woman considering pursuing a STEM education. Community colleges should make sure their websites feature images of female students, especially if the images are STEM-focused. For schools or educators on a budget, classroom posters are another way to expose women to role models.
- Connect women with the next step. Community colleges can show their women students the way to a job or a degree by partnering with local employers and educating students about the requirements for transferring to a four-year institution, where the course requirements can be more rigid in STEM degrees than in other subjects.