The Socialization of Women in Math: Who’s aware?

Sydney PhillipsStudent staff member Sydney has had a rocky relationship with math throughout her life. As a graduate student in the Applied Sociology program at UMBC she began to rethink her relationship with math through her statistics courses and with the support of her (Women!) professor and TA.

On Thursday September 14, the Women’s Center hosted their first fall roundtable on the topic of Women in Tech. I was there to listen and also write the roundup for the Women’s Center.

Women in Tech Flyer - printAlthough I am not a woman in the STEM field, a lot of what was shared really resonated with me and led to a reflection about my relationship with math. Let me start by saying it’s not a positive relationship. I’ve always struggled with math, I feel like it takes me longer than others, my professors (read: male professors) have always seen me as a burden, and now just thinking about it gives me anxiety. I’m talking “I don’t understand anything on this page, I’m going to fail this test, I’m going to fail this class, and I’m never going to get a job and my life is over” types of anxiety.

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I used to say I hated math because I thought I was bad at it, but the roundtable really made me reflect on if this is true or if I’ve just been socialized to believe this. I never thought I was a person who was bad at math; I thought I was bad at math because I was a woman.

https://xkcd.com/385/

Comic from XKCD

Even as a graduate student who passed all of her undergraduate math classes and received an A in graduate level statistics (make note, I had women professors), I still think I’m inherently bad at math, which makes NO sense. This problem exists outside of my experiences as well and is reflected in the disparities between men and women in the STEM fields. For example, although more women are awarded bachelor’s degrees than men, only 17% of computer science graduates are women.

My reflection made me want to reach out to other women to see what their experiences with math were and if this socialization process affected their relationship with math at all. Like many other quests into knowledge, this one did not go quite as planned, but still I received a lot of feedback that included some key themes I think are important.

The first theme is that those who struggled with math or felt as if they were being told they were bad at math, began to feel this way from a VERY early age (most respondents reported between first grade and early middle school). Young girls who were working out math problems were told that if they didn’t understand it right away that they never would and they should basically give up.

The other theme was that most of these comments (or in some cases just dirty looks) came from male teachers. Not only were women being socialized through verbal interactions to believe they were bad at match, they were also aware of the nonverbal interactions between themselves and their male teachers that added to this thought. The patriarchy is alive and well in the classroom y’all.

Here are some responses:

I was talking with a classmate trying to figure out what a problem meant when the teacher came up to us, yelled at us for distracting our classmates, and that if we didn’t understand it – we wouldn’t ever get it. – Rachel (22).

2nd grade, the teacher said I just wasn’t up to it -Jamie (24)

A college professor told me before the class even started that I was either going to fail or drop out of the class, I ended up passing the class with a high B just to prove him wrong -Jill (23)

Most of the women who wrote about these negative experiences also expressed that their negative relationship with math has continue throughout their lives. In terms of their current feelings, they expressed feelings of doubt and anxiety when doing math, or even a complete avoidance of math in life altogether.

I hate it. I’m super intimidated by it. The thought of having to help my daughters with their math homework in the future, terrifies me! -Marie (38)

Some of the women who had negative experiences early on did end up having a good relationship with math later on. Some women have always had good experiences with math. The one common denominator between these positive math women was: a support system, and most of the time this support system was made up of other women (women teachers, Mom’s who worked in the field, etc.).

I had a teacher, Ms. Raden… I don’t know if it was her approach or the fact that she was a woman that made me more comfortable.  I took more advanced classes and eventually got a degree where match and equations are big.- Darcy (31).

My algebra 1 teacher went out her way to encourage girls. -Debbie (55)

I think the support I’ve had from my parents encouraging me to pursue math and science in my career has helped me to not feel inadequate in my mathematical abilities. -Caitlin (25).

Most of the responses I gleaned seemed to be aware of the stereotype of women being bad at math and science. Thus, while I expected emotional answers, I was not prepared for the amount of angry responses I received… which were directed at the survey itself and me. A lot of women took offense that I would “assume” they were bad at math or that their experiences were negative. They had never encountered the problem I was bringing up and therefore didn’t think it was an issue on a larger scale either. I have pretty thick skin, but to be honest, shifting through 30 responses with a large amount being very passionate about why I was wrong hit me hard. I immediately wanted to defend myself but also didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t know how to move forward with the blog or get out the message I was originally trying to convey. At first I just wanted to ignore these responses and focus on my original goal, but after reflecting (again) and getting input from coworkers and an amazing supervisor (Thanks Amelia!) I decided I needed to face what was making me uncomfortable head on.

I think it is important to note that women have a variety of experiences, and all of them are valid. While a lot of women have great experiences with math it is also a fact that there are large disparities in the gender makeup of people in STEM fields and that many women have had negative experiences. I want to foster a space as well as a society where all women’s voices are heard but also not at the expense of women with differing stories. Some experiences are good and some are bad but the consequences of a society that largely labels women at a disadvantage are very real. Although women’s involvement is on the rise, there are still barriers that need to be addressed in order for a more equitable field (and society) to emerge.

To the women in STEM fighting against these barriers, I thank you! To the women who feel comfortable in their own skin around math, I envy you! To the women who avoid math at all costs, I understand you! And to the women who can feel their blood pressure rising just when the word is uttered, I am with you!

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On Campus Resources:

UMBC Center for Women in Technology

More about the issue:

Women and Math: The Gender Gap Bridged

Women in Math, Science, & Medicine: Still Work to be Done

The Truth About Gender and Math

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Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Natacha Ngea

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Natacha Ngea
Computer Engineering
CWIT  Scholar & Newcombe Scholar

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Meet Natacha Ngea! A CWIT Scholar and computer engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

I have always been interested in Science and Technology. My favorite classes were biology, chemistry and Mathematics. I still remember how excited I was to perform experiments with test tubes. In my country of origin, Cameroon, you specialize in high school and your admittance in College depends on what you graduate in. I was placed in Modern Languages. It never felt right. When I got the opportunity to come to the US, I decided to use that chance to finally do what I always wanted to do. In order to do so, though, I needed to pay my way to school and fill the gap I had in technology so I had so I enrolled in a professional certificate at Howard Community College (HCC). My first class was a computer repairs class. I loved it. I wanted to know how computers work. My professor knew so much on the topic that I asked him what was his background was in. He told me he was a mechanical engineer. That is when I started thinking about getting a degree in engineering. After meeting with my advisor, I took some tests and I enrolled in a second degree in engineering. After physics I, I knew mechanical engineering was not the right fit for me but I found out there was a computer engineering program. I read the curriculum and I was sold. In the meantime, I was invited to join the STEM community at HCC. Through this program, I grew more and more confident. I also joined the Computer/Network support team as an intern. I discovered that I liked troubleshooting and taking things apart. I learned a lot there. I am a visual learner and English is not my first language so being able to relate a concept I learned in class with an application I encountered through my internship was great. After an A.A.S in Computer Support Technology and an A.A in Computer Science, I transferred to UMBC in fall 2014 to pursue a degree in Computer Engineering and I also work for DoIT as a network technician. Continue reading

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Rachel Cohen

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Rachel Cohen
Computer Science
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Rachel Cohen! A CWIT Scholar and computer science major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

When I first decided to attend UMBC as a freshman, I originally declared my major as biochemistry. In high school, I had always excelled in my science and math classes and knew that I wanted to major in something that would allow me to hone in on those skills. After taking the gateway biology and chemistry courses, I came to the realization that I wasn’t exceedingly passionate about what I was studying, so I decided to switch my major to computer science. Having no prior experience in the subject, I was a bit hesitant to make such a drastic switch. I knew that computer science was a prevalent field with a great number of job opportunities, so I knew that if I were able to develop the skills needed to get the computer science degree, I would have a successful future ahead of me. Since switching to computer science after freshman year, I haven’t looked back! Continue reading

CWIT Spotlight: Elyse Hill

March is Women’s History Month!

Three  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. While the theme for Women’s History Month changes every year, we have come to love the tradition in spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Elyse Hill
Mechanical Engineering
CWIT  Scholar

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Meet Elyse Hill! A CWIT Scholar and mechanical engineering major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

My interest in STEM was sparked in middle school by my mother. I had a heavy interest in architecture at the time and my mom suggested to me that I should look into pursuing the math and science behind the architecture. That led me to look into engineering, which I found to be a very broad field. In the summer of my 10th grade year, I went to an Exploring Engineering camp at the University of Maryland, College Park where I was exposed to the many disciplines in engineering that UMD had to offer. After coming to UMBC, I decided on mechanical engineering because I found that it was the most versatile of the engineering programs we offer here.

Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.

Last summer, I studied abroad in Lille, France at the Catholic University of Lille. There, many other students and myself engaged in culture classes, french classes, and discipline-specific classes (I took a solar energy course) while getting to experience French and European culture. I was very proud of this experience because I got to successfully apply the language I studied in high school while immersing myself in a foreign culture. The day I was the proudest was the day I wandered around the city of Brussels all by myself with only my map and a language I barely spoke as my tools.

Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals.

I have many role models in my major, the most impactful of which have beenUMBC’s  Dr. Maria Sanchez and Dr. Anne Spence. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in the field of engineering education, something both Dr. Spence and Dr. Sanchez do research in and hold a passion for. When I discussed this field with each of them, they expressed to me their own opinion on the subject and how it is a rising field of great importance. Since hearing their explanations, I have been more motivated to consider the field as a research topic for graduate school. Thanks to an email from Dr. Spence, I found out about an REU focused on engineering education that I applied for and got accepted to for this summer. In addition to their advice, just them being women in engineering is influential to me, and motivates me to become a college professor who inspires students, just as they have inspired me.

Continue reading

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Alejandra Diaz

March is Women’s History Month!

Two  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. Three years later, we still find it meaningful and important to continue spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women and with the 2015 theme of “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives” there’s no better time than now to continue weaving the stories of our campus ITE women into the fabric of women’s history and current day lived experiences. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Alejandra Diaz
Computer Science
CWIT  Scholar

Meet Alejandra Diaz! A CWIT Scholar and computer science major.

Meet Alejandra Diaz! A CWIT Scholar and computer science major.

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

I’ve been interested in STEM ever since I was little. Funnily enough, the reason why I chose Computer Science as my major is because my dad forced me to take a programming elective in high school during my junior year. I whined about signing up for that class, but ended up loving programming to the point where I wanted to major in it.

Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.

I am really proud of my internship during the spring of my freshmen year at Ponte Technologies. This was my first major internship with a company, and I’ve learned so many things from that job. I refreshed myself in Wireshark and Nessus, and I learned the vulnerabilities a modern car has. You’d be surprised as to how easy it is to hack into a car!

Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals?

This might sound cliché, but my dad is my biggest role model in the IT field. He has come so far and now has more certifications and clearances than I can count. Seeing how he has progressed helps me outline what I want to accomplish during my career as an IT professional.

Explain your experience as a woman in a STEM major working with other women in STEM. How have you used each other to support your work and persevere in male-dominated fields?

I feel that a sense of community helps if any issue arrives because I’m a woman in STEM. My friends, who are also computer science majors, and I do homework together and study together. We don’t isolate ourselves in our classes, because we are just like the guys in our class – we’re here to learn.

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The Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields. CWIT efforts begin with nurturing a strong group of Scholars, grow to building community resources for other women in these majors, extend to fostering a healthy gender climate and ITE pedagogy in College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) departments, and finally expand into outreach efforts to increase interest in technical careers. A successful program for female-friendly engineering and information technology education at UMBC will help make UMBC a destination for women (and men) interested in technical careers and serve as a national model for other universities.

For more information about Women’s History events and happenings, visit the Women’s Center myUMBC group page.

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Travis Ward

March is Women’s History Month!

Two  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. Three years later, we still find it meaningful and important to continue spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women and with the 2015 theme of “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives” there’s no better time than now to continue weaving the stories of our campus ITE women into the fabric of women’s history and current day lived experiences. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Travis Ward 
Computer Engineering
T-Site Scholar

Meet Travis... a T-Site Scholar in the CWIT Community

Meet Travis… a T-Site Scholar in the CWIT Community

Tell us about your experience in the CWIT community.

By being a member of the CWIT community, I have felt a connection to other students in class and socially that I wouldn’t otherwise have. In almost every class I have, there’s someone there that I recognize and can have a rapport with. Almost every group I have hung out or worked with from class has built up from a fellow CWIT member. Recently I have had the honor to be a part of several committees to encourage young women to enter the STEM fields or work beside new members to CWIT. These events have been some of the most satisfying experiences I have had at UMBC.

Based on your experiences, what do you want other men to know about the gender gap in engineering and IT?

Personally I think that most men are already aware of the gender gap in the STEM fields. I know my own major of computer engineering is particularly lacking in gender diversity. This is a frustrating issue as one of the hardest parts of working in this field is coming up with solutions to very difficult problems. Trying to solve these in a vacuum is a near impossibility. I know I can’t do it. The women that I work with have valuable insights and perspective that has helped me through a project more then once. They make just as strong of an addition as any man would. Everybody attacks design problems from a different angle depending on how they learned to problem solve. These unique perspectives are invaluable to a project and should never be overlooked.

How do you feel you are a role model for other men majoring in engineering and IT?

I have had a lot of support from women in my life help me get to where I am today. I think it is only right that I try to be there to offer support to anybody who may struggle here at UMBC. By being a mentor to other member’s of CWIT I hope any of our community members may feel more comfortable working in STEM. By being a member of the CWIT retreat committee, I was given the opportunity to mold many student’s first impression of UMBC. As a part of the Bits and Bytes group, we helped young women better understand how to get into the STEM fields, what kind of challenges they might find, and the kinds of support that are out there. I have tried to make my workplaces and classrooms more tolerant and accepting places. I encourage others to be accepting and nonjudgmental as well. I think this is important not just for encouraging women to participate in STEM, but for anybody.

How has being a man advocating for women in engineering or IT helped you better understand how important the stories of women’s experiences are?

By being in a community dedicated to diversity in the STEM fields I have learned a lot. Everybody has their own story, and with it comes their own take on a host of issues. While many of these are different and unique, I know I have been most struck by how many of them I can relate to. I think it is important to realize that there is far more that connects me with everybody in this community. Not just the men, and not just the computer engineers. All of us have found an interest our area and an aptitude for it. For many of us it was a surprise and wasn’t even something we were looking for. I know that we are all together exploring what these interests mean to us and its important that we have the support improves that journey.

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The Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields. CWIT efforts begin with nurturing a strong group of Scholars, grow to building community resources for other women in these majors, extend to fostering a healthy gender climate and ITE pedagogy in College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) departments, and finally expand into outreach efforts to increase interest in technical careers. A successful program for female-friendly engineering and information technology education at UMBC will help make UMBC a destination for women (and men) interested in technical careers and serve as a national model for other universities.

For more information about Women’s History events and happenings, visit the Women’s Center myUMBC group page.

Women’s History Month CWIT Spotlight: Lillie Cimmerer

March is Women’s History Month!

Two  years ago Women’s History Month’s national theme was “Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” The theme honored generations of women who throughout American history have used their intelligence, imagination, sense of wonder, and tenacity to make extraordinary contributions to the STEM fields. At UMBC we honored this theme by partnering with the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT) to feature some of their amazing students participating in technology in the engineering and information technology fields. Three years later, we still find it meaningful and important to continue spotlighting the stories of UMBC’s CWIT women and with the 2015 theme of “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives” there’s no better time than now to continue weaving the stories of our campus ITE women into the fabric of women’s history and current day lived experiences. So with that, we are honored to bring you the 3rd Annual CWIT Showcase in honor of Women’s History Month.

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Lillie Cimmerer
Computer Engineering major
CWIT  Scholar

Meet Lillie - a UMBC CWIT Scholar!

Meet Lillie – a UMBC CWIT Scholar!

Describe what sparked your interest STEM and the journey to choosing your major.

My introduction into the STEM world was my parents. They are both in STEM fields, and like most parents, they wanted me to follow in their footsteps. Fortunately for them, my favorite subject in school was math, so getting interested into STEM wasn’t very difficult. In high school I toke several engineering courses through a program called Project Lead the Way. In this program, my favorite course was Digital Electronics. However, UMBC doesn’t offer an undergrad for electrical engineering so I came in undeclared. At my orientation, I was trying to select a specific computer course, however to get in to it, I had to declare myself as computer engineering major

Tell us about an internship, research experience or project that you are proud of.

For Rockets and More, we do various outreach programs. During these outreach events we have anywhere from 20 to 150 middle school students building and launching water bottle rockets using launchers that we, as a club, designed and built ourselves. Not only do we have the students launch rockets, but we also talk to them about the physics behind rocketry and get them thinking about what choices they made to make their rockets optimal. I particularly love these kinds of events, because it’s not just about doing really fun and awesome STEM things, it’s also about sharing my love with others and maybe even inspiring them to be interested in STEM as well.

Who are your role models in the engineering or IT field? How have their stories influenced your educational or career goals?

While I wouldn’t exactly say she is my role model, I definitely would say she has given me the best advice. She is one of my friend’s mom and she received her degree in electrical engineering. After many years working in the industry as an electrical engineer, she learned that she really wasn’t meant to be an engineer. She found that she actually preferred the people aspect, and moved towards working in the finance department. She told me, “If you are going to screw up your life by choosing the wrong degree, do it with an engineering degree.” This is what made me decide I wanted to be an engineer. No matter where life takes me, engineering won’t be just a degree I earn, or a job I acquire, it will be a way of thinking, and a way to solve problems no matter what those problems may be.

Explain your experience as a woman in a STEM major working with other women in STEM. How have you used each other to support your work and persevere in male-dominated fields?

I have never really been concerned about being a woman in the STEM field. While it is not ideal to be one of three girls in a classroom full of students, I have never felt like I didn’t belong, or wasn’t as qualified. Though I have had a couple instances where people have told me they thought what I was doing was too hard, whether that is because I am a woman or just because I am me, it doesn’t matter. Those people don’t bother me, because they are not the ones that matter in life. All our lives there will be someone who doesn’t believe in us, but there is also someone who does. I have found those people both in CWIT and outside of CWIT, both female and male. It’s all about finding those people who bring you up, and forgetting about those who don’t.

"All our lives there will be someone who doesn't believe in us, but there is also someone who does."

“All our lives there will be someone who doesn’t believe in us, but there is also someone who does.” – Lillie

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The Center for Women In Technology (CWIT) is dedicated to increasing the representation of women in the creation of technology in the engineering and information technology fields. CWIT efforts begin with nurturing a strong group of Scholars, grow to building community resources for other women in these majors, extend to fostering a healthy gender climate and ITE pedagogy in College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) departments, and finally expand into outreach efforts to increase interest in technical careers. A successful program for female-friendly engineering and information technology education at UMBC will help make UMBC a destination for women (and men) interested in technical careers and serve as a national model for other universities.

For more information about Women’s History events and happenings, visit the Women’s Center myUMBC group page.