OLLI presentation tackles underrepresented women in STEM

In Campus News, News
(Raymond Pelayo / Daily Titan)

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute continued its “Tales of a Great University” series with a presentation by Susamma Barua, Ph.D., who emphasized increasing female success in the college.

During the presentation, the Interim Dean of engineering and computer science addressed the lack of representation of women within science and technology-oriented professions.

Currently, within the United States, women comprise 25 percent of jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics field, Barua said.

“When you narrow it down to engineering and computer science, that number drops down further,” Barua said.

Improvement in representation starts with education, Barua said. The college aims to provide the support needed for female students to feel empowered as well as the resources to help them graduate, Barua said.

Right now, 844 students in the college are female, which comprises about 17 percent of the college, according to Barua’s presentation.

By 2021, Barua hopes to increase the amount of women in the College of Engineering and Computer Science by 30 percent.  

“Even though 30 percent in about four or five years doesn’t seem to be high, it’s going to be quite difficult to achieve,” Baura said.

Although elementary school students show interest in the STEM fields, girls usually lose that interest as they continue on with school, Barua said.

“As they work through their junior high and high school years, something happens and we can actually see a withdrawal symptom in them and that’s when the difficulty actually starts,” Barua said.

Community events like the annual STEM Expo are held to inspire girls to get involved in math and science.

“We want to do the outreach at a very early age,” Barua said. “We want them to have an understanding of science and math and engineering and computer science.”

Barua emphasized the importance of female students seeing her as a role model for success within the engineering and computer science world.

“The female students in our college are seeing a female leader being in charge of everything that happens in the college for the first time,” Barua said.

OLLI member Merri Schloffer said she was glad to hear Barua address female representation within the college because women can bring a different perspective on projects.

Barua’s presentation also addressed the college’s goal to meet the rapid pace of technological advancement and its effect on the workforce.

“Engineering and computer science are extremely dynamic fields. What we teach today may not necessarily be valid a year from now. It becomes obsolete very quickly,” Barua said.

To meet these demands and provide students with practical experiences, the college requires students to work on a design project for one year in their capstone class.

Barua said student-led projects often combine all disciplines within the college in a team setting.

OLLI member Don Smith said he thinks hands-on experience with the projects will benefit students.

“I thought it was good that the students get some hands-on experience and that everything wasn’t simply book learning, because when you go out into the community, when you go out into the workforce, if everything’s been book learning, you’re going to hit the ground,” Smith said.

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