Women and Minorities in S&T: Morella Commission and AIP Report Both a congressionally-established commission and an AIP report have recently contributed to the dialogue on participation of women and other underrepresented groups in science. After almost ten years of trying to get an effort off the ground, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) held a press conference and hearing on July 13 to celebrate the work of a commission she established on the Advancement of Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science, Technology and Engineering (CAWMSET). The 11 members of the bipartisan commission, mainly from academia and industry, were appointed by President Clinton, Members of Congress, and Governors, with a steering committee composed of senior officials from federal S&T agencies.
While the full report will not be available until July 31 on the commission's web site ( http://www.nsf.gov/od/cawmset), its recommendations were made public on July 13. Speakers highlighted the importance to the nation of a strong science, engineering and technology (SET) domestic workforce, and the growing role of women, minorities, and the disabled in that workforce. "The statistics themselves are sufficiently compelling," said commission member George Campbell, President of Cooper Union. Over the past 20 years, he noted, many previous reports have issued warnings on the same subject. "So we didn't want to produce yet another report that would be news for a day and then relegated to the bookshelves to gather dust with the others," Campbell asserted. Instead, he said, the commission's goal "was to produce a set of action-oriented policy statements that would push some buttons that haven't been pushed before."
The report's recommendations advocate greater action, emphasis, accountability, and in some cases greater resources, from federal, state and local governments, and industry. It is difficult to know, however, what incentives or inducements - other than the compelling statistics cited by Campbell - the commission can bring to spur these groups to action. The commission's recommendations are as follows:
Precollege Education: The report calls on states to adopt and implement "comprehensive high-quality education standards" for K- 12 SET curricula, teacher qualifications, technological assets and physical infrastructure. The commission also urges states to require school districts to collect gender, racial, socioeconomic, performance and other data on students and use it to hold schools accountable for achievement of all students. It advises following the recommendations of the Glenn Commission (expected this fall) on improving math and science teaching.
Higher Education: The commission calls for federal, state, and local partnerships to institute and fund "aggressive, focused intervention efforts" targeting underrepresented groups "at the high school level, at the transition into postsecondary education, and at the community college transition into four-year colleges." The commission also "recommends that the federal and state governments significantly expand financial investment in support of underrepresented groups in SET higher education," including historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and expansion of the Pell Grant Program for students pursuing SET careers.
Professional Life: The commission "recommends that both public and private SET employers be held accountable for the career development and advancement" of employees from underrepresented groups, and calls on employers to make diversity a strategic goal and to report annually on the pay, participation, career development and advancement of such employees.
Public Image: The report encourages establishment of a body, "representing public, nonprofit, and private sectors, to coordinate efforts to transform the image of SET professions and their practitioners" to one that is positive and inclusive. It suggests building on media campaigns already underway.
Nationwide Accountability: The final recommendation of the report is to "establish or identify a collaborative body to continue the efforts of the Commission through the development, coordination, and oversight of strong, feasible action plans."
A number of women successful in technical fields testified on their personal experiences and their suggestions for encouraging girls to participate in the SET arena. Col. Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander, highlighted the value of small classes and individual attention by teachers and counselors to identify students with interest. Gail Naughton, the first woman to be awarded "National Inventor of the Year," said that after long, arduous, and expensive training in SET fields, starting salaries for new PhDs are "ridiculously low, particularly for women and minorities." Danika McKellar, a well- known child actress who recently completed a bachelor's degree in math from UCLA, shared her experience of a teacher who was surprised that she did well in science because she wore "cute clothes and brightly-colored earrings." She stressed the importance of creating a positive image of scientists that women and minorities could relate to, especially during the middle school years when students are forming their self-image.
The report "documents the barriers that work to keep minorities, women, and people with disabilities from participating proportionally in SET educational and career opportunities," said commission member Elaine Mendoza, president and CEO of Conceptual MindWorks. "However, the focus of the report is not to belabor discussion of social problems, but to set an agenda that will...ensure real, measurable progress toward a scientific enterprise empowered by the best rather than simply by the traditional." What the next steps will be to ensure that progress, or how a follow-on group will be established to pursue the commission's recommendations, were not addressed at the hearing.
AIP REPORT ON WOMEN IN PHYSICS: On a related topic, AIP's Education and Employment Statistics Division in June released a report on "Women in Physics, 2000." It finds that the number of girls taking physics is increasing: In 1997, almost half of high school physics students were female. However, "physics is not attracting women as quickly as other fields, including life sciences, chemistry and engineering," and women's participation in physics is found to decrease "with each step up the academic ladder." Additionally, it states that "the proportion of women teaching physics decreases as academic rank and level of the department increase." Finally, at least for members of AIP's 10 Member Societies, the report finds salary differences between men and women largely statistically insignificant. The report can be accessed at http://www.aip.org/statistics
Audrey T. Leath