Every semester, women walk into college science, technology, engineering and math courses and are the only female in the room.
“You can imagine if you are the only one in the room who looks like you, you might think you’ve made a mistake,” said Jennifer Nielson, the associate dean in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at Brigham Young University in Provo.
Far fewer women than men take STEM courses at universities, and even fewer will graduate with a STEM degree. About 40 percent of women who start STEM degrees will switch their majors before they graduate, according to Cydni Tetro, the founder and president of the Women Tech Council.
It’s the reason why the Women Tech Council recently kickstarted the statewide Student Innovators program, creating a network between women working on STEM degrees and connecting them with mentors. The program also includes an online platform to connect with mentors and provides webinars.
The goal is to get 1,000 women involved in Student Innovators this year.
“We know when you get a support system around you, it will help you,” Tetro said.
Both BYU and Utah Valley University in Orem are participating in the program.
Tetro, who has a degree in computer science, said there were only three women in her graduating class. A support network, she said, can help women through tougher courses and hopefully boost graduation rates.
“What we found is we need to surround these women with other women who are going through these programs,” Tetro said.
Nielson was one of the first women in BYU’s chemistry department. As a recently-appointed associate dean, she’s trying to find more ways to support the undergraduate women in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, which includes seven departments in the STEM field.
“You might not want to stay in a chemistry class, but you should at least take it, and there are women who aren’t taking the chemistry course,” Nielson said.
Nielson said men can be fantastic for a women studying STEM to work with, but having additional women in their network to help navigate difficult science courses can be helpful.
She believes the Student Innovators program will have an impact.
“I think it’s a great program to reach down and help students in that pipeline coming up,” Nielson said.