Hopes To Close The Gender Gap Through Ed.
Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan, an assistant professor of biology at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Elsevier Foundation to develop A first-of-its kind CUNY program designed to encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.
At a time when great emphasis is being placed on the critical role that STEM education plays in the country’s competitiveness in the global economy and future economic prosperity, Radhakrishnan hopes the project will address a glaring gap between men and women entering STEM fields.
“The first two years of a college career are considered key predictors of whether students will pursue a major in STEM fields,” said Radhakrishnan, who has been teaching at LaGuardia for two years. “This grant will increase women entering STEM fields, gaining research experience and in successfully graduating with a STEM degree in hand.”
This month, the two-year program launched its four-prong initiative that will target women who show great potential in having successful careers within the STEM majors at LaGuardia. Offered will be workshops, research internships, scholarships and childcare assistance. The program will also be open to all CUNY community college students.
The series of workshops will inform women about the STEM opportunities that LaGuardia offers in math engineering, biology and environmental science and will provide information on transfer. Also scheduled will be panel discussions featuring leading women in pre-health and science careers who will give the students real-world examples of women in the workforce.
Students will be placed on paid on- and off-campus research internships as part of a partnership with Empire State College. The internships will expose students to the scientific method, encourage them to think about careers in academia and research, as well as prepare them for four-year college experiences.
Scholarships will be awarded to students depending on financial aid and those who need childcare assistance.
“The project aims to provide those women who have passion and drive to succeed in science with the toolkit necessary for making informed career choices,” said the professor.
In developing the program, Radhakrishnan examined recent research that shows that part of the reason women remain a minority in STEM is that as early as high school a stigma is attached to young women who are interested in science and math. At community colleges, it was noted, many women do not have the financial support and childcare assistance they need to successfully pursue a STEM degree.
“Within two-year colleges in particular, the shortage of affordable childcare and the gender stereotypes that discourage women from pursuing careers in math, and science, are two of the biggest barriers holding women back in college,” said Radhakrishnan, who pointed out that while 58 percent of LaGuardia’s student population is female, in 2012, less than 5 percent graduated with a STEM degree.
“By eliminating the barriers such as costs associated with tuition and childcare,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia, “LaGuardia will be a valuable training ground for women who wish to pursue degrees, and, ultimately, careers in STEM fields.”
Radhakrishnan earned a bachelor’s in zoology and a master’s in biotechnology at the University of Madras, India. She received a full scholarship to pursue a doctorate in biology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.
The Elsevier Foundation’s New Scholars program supports programs to help early-to mid-career women scientists balance family responsibilities with demanding careers in science, health and technology.