Women outnumber men at most colleges and universities — something that would have been unimaginable at a not-so distant point in history.
But when it comes to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — women are still critically underrepresented.
Though the recent increase of women in fields like biology and medicine indicates a significant change in such traditionally male-dominated academic spheres, it is not an across-the-board change.
The increase of female students signals a potential for future growth and integration, yet the lack of women in other STEM areas means universities should be doing more to keep the numbers growing.
As the Daily Trojan reported at the end of last month, more women are receiving master’s degrees nationally in STEM disciplines than ever before.
The number of women with biological and agricultural masters degrees increased 5.4 percent and health science 11.1 percent.
According to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences report published in February, half of all M.D. degrees and 52 percent of life science Ph.Ds today are held by women. In 1970, only 13 percent of Ph.Ds in life science went to women.
But the changes are simply not happening in computer science, engineering, math and physics.
USC is aware of this, and recognizes the work the university has to do to spur change.
The math department has a variety of programs geared toward women. These include a summer program for all undergraduates thinking about applying to the graduate program as well as one for women who have been accepted to the program, and a Women in Science and finally an Engineering Program developed to increase the number of women in tenured and tenure-track faculty STEM positions.
These kinds of programs should be offered in all STEM departments.
Outreach and support are key to create a more welcoming environment for women at all levels, from undergraduate to faculty.
Also, exposing high school students to STEM fields is critical so that younger generations realize their interests and options early on.
USC has recognized the importance of early outreach. The university offers a summer science program for high school and even middle school girls at the Phillip K. Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.
Special women’s programs and initiatives, research grants and enhancement of research opportunities are all proven, effective ways to support and achieve full gender equality.
Women’s clubs on campus, such as the Society of Women Engineers and USC Women in Math, also provides sub-communities for women that enhance and support academic programs.
Clubs such as these definitely help women to be even more determined to prove themselves in these disciplines, independent of extra efforts from the university.
Women working in STEM fields, even the female high school students who are just interested in math and science, are trailblazers who should be proud of their role in changing the face of education. Universities should continue to encourage women to be involved in STEM fields through outreach and programs that assist them.
Elena Kadvany is a senior majoring in Spanish. Her column “Beyond the Classroom” runs Mondays.