More women in science goal of new UK effort

­By Rebecca Sweeney

When Amy Shortridge was considering where to concentrate her studies at UK, none of her advisers suggested she look into engineering.

But she stumbled upon it by chance, and now, as a civil engineering junior, she’s a peer mentor for a local organization that encourages majoring in science, technology, engineering and math.

That group, Appalachian & Minority STEM Majors, is partnering with the National Girls Collaborative Project to form the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative. The project has already been implemented in other states, and the new collaborative is being created to increase the number of women in math and science fields in Kentucky.

UK will participate in the collaborative by creating new projects to increase the interest of Kentucky girls and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Sue Scheff, coordinator of Appalachian & Minority STEM Majors.

Females make up 45 percent of the workforce in the United States and hold 12 percent of science and engineering jobs in business and industry, according to the National Council for Research on Women.

The national project for boosting women’s interest in math and science currently serves in California, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Oregon and Washington, and the National Science Foundation gave it a grant to expand to other states.

The lower percentages of female students in some areas of science and engineering programs may be the result of schools not reaching out to females and a lack of female interest, among other factors, Scheff said.

“Our goal in implementing the collaborative is to partner with other institutions across the state to share information, increase programming to stimulate interest in STEM fields for both boys and girls, and to reduce duplication of efforts,” Scheff said.

Shortridge said girls are highly outnumbered in all of her engineering classes, but her experience as a female engineering major has been positive.

“It seems like UK makes sure to go out of their way to make females feel welcome, and the activities I’m involved in, like Society of Women Engineers, make me feel like I’m not such a minority,” she said.

Shortridge suggested targeting girls at a younger age who may have an interest in careers relating to math and science and encouraging them to pursue those studies.

“Maybe if there was a way for colleges like UK to send out information to female high school seniors about STEM majors, it might make them more aware of potential options,” she said.

An informational meeting to organize the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the UK Cooperative Extension Office at 1140 Red Mile Place in Lexington.

The meeting will bring together people from K-12 education, higher education, government, professional organizations, businesses and community-based organizations to find ways to work with other women-focused organizations within the state, Scheff said.