SUMMARY: CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES
Mildred S. Dresselhaus
Linda Skidmore Dix
Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus is an elected member of both the National Academy of Engineering (1974) and the National Academy of Sciences (1985). She is also the Chair of the National Research Council's Committee on Women in Science and Engineering (CWSE) and, in that volunteer capacity, has been the engine behind this enterprise. Her reputation as an Institute professor of electrical engineering and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and past president of the American Physical Society has helped to push the agenda of enhancing the participation of women in science and engineering to the point that the National Research Council established CWSE in 1991.
Linda Skidmore Dix, study director of CWSE, is an experienced staff officer at the National Research Council, having been responsible for several studies dealing with the education and employment of U.S. scientists and engineers during her 11-year tenure in the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel (OSEP) and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Resources.
At the start of the Conference on Science and Engineering Programs, Alan Fechter, executive director of OSEP, shared a story about a conference at which Frank Press, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chairman of the National Research Council, was a member of a panel dealing with the question of the vitality of the academic enterprise. At the end of the panel presentation, a member of the audience asked Dr. Press whether there was a shortage or a surplus of scientists and engineers and how supply would affect the vitality of academic institutions. Dr. Press's response was very appropriate in terms of the CWSE conference: "I do not know whether there is an overall shortage or surplus or not. It is a very uncertain enterprise to try to figure these things out. But I do know that we have a shortage of women and we have a shortage of minorities." Mr. Fechter concurred that, whether
or not there are shortages overall, the present underrepresentation of women and minorities in science and engineering careers is not to be tolerated and calls for action.
Linda S. Wilson, chair of OSEP, reminded conference participants that there is greater focus on systemic, rather than organizational, change today than in the past. According to Dr. Wilson,
The systemic focus deals with the whole map, with understanding the system and the ways in which the parts interact with each other rather than in examining just an isolated piece. One cannot look at the whole system without looking at some of the isolated pieces; but in the past we often looked only at isolated pieces and pretended that a system, implicit though it might be, did not exist.
The Interventions Process
Based on both the formal presentations and informal discussions throughout the conference on science and engineering (S&E) programs, a set of progressive actions for implementing interventions, particularly those targeting women, was defined.
Planning an Intervention
While most clearly stated by the Conference groups examining interventions supported by the federal government, the "glass-cutter" program that those groups developed is appropriate for all levels of the education/employment pipeline:
Identify the problem, gather data that confirms the existence of a problem, and identify the audience who will receive and respond to such information.
Identify the stakeholders, those who will benefit from changes in policies or programs, and involve them in developing clearly stated goals and strategies for effecting change as well as the rationale for instigating change.
Communicate the problem to management, presenting details about potential solutions; a timeline for achieving them; their benefits and costs; and a plan for evaluating the program's effectiveness (both
formative/ongoing and summative/end-goal evaluations are essential).
In the process of devising potential solutions, do not operate in a vacuum. For example, although career development seems to be a major component of most S&E education programs, some programs have found that career sessions tend not to be well received and can be eliminated during the first two years of undergraduate study (P. Campbell, 1991). Instead, career development is usually a more effective component in programs targeting college juniors and seniors, who are closer to the time when full-time employment would begin. It should be noted, however, that some interventions—for instance, the University of Washington's Women in Engineering initiative—have been successful in incorporating career development components within their programs targeted to freshmen and sophomores as well as to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.
From the beginning, it is wise to institutionalize programs. Actions of the host institution reveal its commitment to the program and its goals. It is most important that the program fit the institution's "overall aura," according to Suzanne Brainard (1991).
One finding of this Conference was the relatively small number of programs for which evaluation had been built-in at the outset and for which evaluation had been conducted. As a result, determination of a program's effectiveness, particularly whether a program is "on target for women," is most difficult. Research has found that just having a program for women in science and engineering doesn't mean the program will have a positive effect (P. Campbell, 1991). Thus, evaluation must be one component of the intervention, set up during the planning stages of the program. Ongoing evaluation is most important to ensure the effective use of resources and to determine the extent to which the program meets student, faculty, and institutional needs and expectations. For instance, once one has decided to use summer internships as an intervention, one should assess whether students must be kept on campus for the entire summer or whether the programmatic goals might be achieved during a shorter time period.
Funding an Intervention
Programs can be funded solely by a single institution (university, company, federal agency, private foundation) or a consortium of organizations interested in supporting the proposed program's goals. Support by the host institution can be the deciding factor when external sources are considering
whether to lend support to a program. Conference participants offered the following suggestions to individuals seeking external funding for their programs:
Use references such as The Foundation Directory to determine those private funding sources that are interested in science and engineering, education, women, and minorities. In preparing a proposal, reveal your knowledge of the foundation's goals and support to activities similar to those you are contemplating.
Harry Weiner, a program officer of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, suggested that communication should not be limited to submission of a formal proposal requesting program support. Instead, he encouraged informal contact, noting that telephone calls are a convenient way to determine rather quickly the extent to which your proposal would mesh with a foundation's goals. Dr. Weiner also emphasized the importance of timing when submitting a proposal: "a bad proposal is one that comes too soon in the life of a program, before the program administrator can point to a successful programmatic outcome, or one that comes up too late as a plea for help after other funding sources have dried up."
External commitment to an intervention is shown not only by financial support for the program, but also by the personal involvement of corporate and foundation employees in program activities.
Recognize that available resources are finite and limited. George Campbell, president of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, advised program implementers to "use limited resources intelligently."
Elements of Effective Interventions
From both the formal presentations highlighted in Chapters 4–8 of this report and the more informal discussions among Conference participants, it became apparent that S&E interventions, independent of their level in the education/employment pipeline, shared certain common elements. Among those shared characteristics are the following:
an environment conducive to the study or practice of science and engineering, one in which equal opportunity is provided: As Suzanne
Brainard noted, ''One's perception of that environment can determine whether a student pursues study in a particular discipline." She said that her major reason for earning a degree in psychology rather than pursuing a career in the natural sciences, in spite of her interest in math and statistics, was the environment in which math and statistics courses were taught. The environment must permit participants, whether students or employees, to develop confidence in themselves and in their work.
For employed scientists and engineers, a conducive environment also permits job options such as flex-time, part-time employment, job sharing, and even working at home.
involvement of the top institutional leaders: Whether the intervention be education- or employment-oriented, it seldom succeeds for long without the support of top management. As described throughout the earlier chapters of this report, the lack of top support often means the program is "doomed to be short-term, under-financed, and subject to inconsistent resource allocations" (Sposito, Chapter 6). On the other hand, programs having the support of top leadership tend to be more comprehensive in their outreach and effectiveness (see, for instance, Chapter 7).
opportunities for program participants to ask questions: It was pointed out during the conference that a greater willingness to ask questions has been evident among the more successful S&E students, both women and men, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
peer groups and networking: Both experienced and newly-enrolled program participants learn from the networking process. In addition to making program participants comfortable with the program, use of peers to help with program operation allows the program administrator and staff needed time to focus on other areas requiring their input. Furthermore, networking with one's peers enables one to " 'find out what's going on,' gain political skills, and obtain continual reassurance that the difficulties one faces are not unique or insurmountable" (Sposito, Chapter 6).
mentors and role models: In addition to peer mentoring, such as the Big Sisters program that forms part of the Women in Engineering
Initiative at the University of Washington and other institutions, undergraduate and graduate students benefit from mentoring by S&E faculty and scientists and engineers employed outside academe. In such mentoring programs, noted Suzanne Brainard, "One strategy more important than the identification and matching of mentors and protegees is allowing opportunities for rematching so that both students and mentors can say, 'This is not a good fit. Perhaps something useful can come out of meeting someone else' " (Brainard, 1991).
Mentoring, as shown in the chapters by Conwell and Sposito, is equally important to employed scientists and engineers. Conference participants stressed the role of mentors and role models in "achieving the self-confidence necessary for realizing the goals of any enhancement program" (Sposito, Chapter 6). Mentoring programs should be institution-wide and continuing, not limited to one-shot, isolated efforts.
Conference participants experienced in designing and administering S&E interventions suggested several precautions. Among them were the following:
Don't pursue one large grant for support of an intervention; for when that grant is gone, the program may be forced to end. Instead, conference participants were encouraged to seek small grants from a variety of sources.
Not all funding sources value innovation as highly as others do. Be sensitive to the organization's previous funding mode, remembering that some foundations are more likely to support a program that has existed long enough to show its effectiveness than to support an entirely new program.
Be prepared for some less than positive responses to one's plans to target women to participate in interventions in the sciences and engineering. Patricia Campbell (1991) called this the "I don't want to be identified as a woman in science" syndrome, and this phenomenon occurs both for student and faculty participants. She noted that some women students don't want to participate in a program designed especially for women, fearing that their
participation will define them as either in need of remediation or different from other students. Women faculty often feel that they made it on their own and don't see a reason that special efforts are needed for students who have the ability to succeed in science and engineering education and careers.
Recognize that some negative responses to women scientists and engineers, and to programs targeting them, arise from deeply ingrained cultural biases. During discussion at the conference, "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?," Linda Wilson cautioned, "It is especially important for women to recognize that that is true for their male colleagues and that, as we move forward, we need to be sensitive to the adjustments they are making in the way they think and believe about us, just as we are trying to learn about them."
Interventions targeting women can occasionally have negative effects if inappropriately structured and executed. One example of such a program cited at the conference was a program that emphasized the barriers to being a woman in science: such an emphasis actually discouraged the women program participants from pursuing further studies in science and engineering.
On Target for Women?
In Chapters 4–8 one finds descriptions of a variety of interventions in science and engineering. In addition to those providing financial resources for educational purposes, there are institution efforts to create gender sensitivity (among such programs are training sessions on diversity and incentives and accountability for managers on these issues); women's groups organized to provide a network for women scientists and engineers, both students and employees; assistance with child-care, important both to postsecondary students and practicing scientists and engineers; career counseling and career development programs; and flexible scheduling (classes for students, work hours for employees).
Interventions are important to recruit and retain both women and men in science and engineering. For women they have several purposes, including providing proof that women scientists and engineers do exist, serving as points of contact with others interested in particular disciplines, offering opportunities for career advancement, as well as the development of
leadership and managerial skills, recognizing outstanding performance by women, and forming networks that cut across many traditional boundaries. To facilitate the success of a particular effort requires an understanding of the process of implementation, administration, and evaluation. However, the limited duration of many programs and the almost nonexistent evaluation of current programs prevented Conference participants from assessing the extent to which this vast array of interventions is "on target for women." They did, nonetheless, stress the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of all interventions, particularly in light of a number of topics warranting further study:
Reform of science education at the university level to address retention problems at each level: undergraduate, M.S., and Ph.D.—for example, why do many students who enter doctoral programs in science not complete those programs?
Cultural and structural discrimination—for example, what must be done to overcome bias that steers females away from careers in science and engineering?
Public perception of science—for example, what can really change the negative images of scientists and engineers held by many children and adults?
Student-based systems of learning—for example, what are their impacts on the pursuit of S&E degrees as compared to the influences of teacher-based systems of learning?
Similarities of underparticipating groups in science and engineering—for instance, what problems faced by minorities are the same as those faced by women?
Critical mass—by scientific discipline, what level of participation by women, both as students and as faculty, is necessary to ensure an environment conducive to the recruitment and retention of other women in that discipline?
The following comments made by Linda S. Wilson at the conference seem to be an appropriate conclusion to this examination of S&E interventions. When asked whether parity participation of women in the sciences and engineering can be achieved by perturbation theory or by unraveling the current fabric of S&E education and beginning anew, she responded:
We will be proceeding more incrementally than by bold revolution.... Nonetheless, these perturbations will empower men as well as women, and that is what will help move systemic change along more rapidly. There are many, many men who have not found the current system conducive to developing their talents. There are many men who want just as much as women do to have their children educated and cared for in a better way. What we are learning is going to be enormously liberating to the majority of men. What we are trying to do is to construct good, functional partnerships with greater understanding. That can be done with perturbation theory. We do not have to foment revolution. It does require our continuing to have confidence and self-esteem and to stay true to our values.
Bhattacharyya, Maryka. 1991. Focus on the End Point: Quality of Life of Women Scientists. Presentation at the National Research Council conference on ''Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?" Irvine, CA, November 4–5.
Brainard, Suzanne. 1991. Mentoring Programs: Using a Generic Intervention Strategy. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference on "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?" Irvine, CA, November 4–5.
Campbell, George Jr. 1991. Discussion, Using Time, Money, and Human Resources Efficiently and Effectively. Conference on Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women? Irvine, CA, November 4–5.
Campbell, Patricia. 1991. How To Do Everything on Practically Nothing: Lessons from the Field. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference on "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?" Irvine, CA, November 4–5 .
Nerad, Maresi. 1991. Using Time, Money, and Human Resources Efficiently and Effectively in the Case of Women Graduate Students. Paper presented at the National Research Council conference on "Science and Engineering Programs: On Target for Women?" Irvine, CA, November 4–5.