The feds are handing out more than $700,000 of taxpayer money to the University of Tennessee Knoxville so school officials can find more ways to get women involved with STEM.
There’s just one problem, said Toni Airaksinen, in a column this week for PJ Media.
Previous attempts have had “zero record of success,” Airaksinen said.
According to Live Science, STEM incorporates the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics all into one curriculum.
Officials at UT-Knoxville did not respond to The Tennessee Star’s questions about this matter before close of business Friday.
Writing for Campusreform.org one year ago, Airaksinen profiled a Georgetown University economics professor, Adriana Kugler, who found STEM recruitment efforts that target women backfire.
The problem, the article went on to say, is how the media portrays the situation.
“The trouble begins when the media and recruitment efforts capitalize on that preponderance of men, since it sends an additional message to women that they don’t fit into those fields, and that they don’t belong there,” Kugler told Campus Reform.
“With the media, women are getting multiple signals that they don’t belong in the STEM field, that they won’t fit into the field. That’s what we find. It’s very well intentioned, but it may be backfiring.”
Kugler cited her own past experience.
STEM recruitment efforts targeted towards women did not exist while she studied for her Ph.D. The media never made her believe STEM was hostile toward women, as they seem to do today, she said.
“I was not all that aware of the lack of women in STEM when I started in my career, which probably served me well,” Kugler said.
Recruitment efforts, Kugler went on to say, need a major overhaul.
“Instead of privileging the narratives of women who leave STEM, the mainstream media would be more beneficial if it finds women who have succeeded in those fields, and shows those cases, so that women are encouraged instead of discouraged,” Kugler said.
“The media portrayal of STEM as masculine and male dominated is the strongest factor that explains women’s increasing reluctance to enter the STEM field.”
This week’s PJ Media article, meanwhile, said Professor Verlee Keppens and four other professors will oversee the project.
“According to the grant abstract, the $713,763 will target three main issues confronting women in STEM,” Airaksinen wrote.
“These include ‘a culture of implicit bias’ on campus, ‘social and professional isolation’ faced by female students, and ‘work-life integration.’”
Taxpayers, she continued, will also pay for programs that are designed to increase awareness of implicit bias on campus, the creation of equity allies, and the creation of policies recognizing women’s emotional labor for tenure applications.
But there are likely better and more cost-efficient ways to get more women involved, Airaksinen said.
“Perhaps this program might be helpful for women in STEM, and ultimately, scientific discovery at large,” Airaksinen said.
“But considering that the National Science Foundation has poured millions of taxpayer funds into similar projects and hasn’t been able to document any results, it seems unlikely.”
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