Anne Rinn, right, UHD assistant professor of psychology, is eager to learn why some women leave science, technology, engineering and mathematics degree programs and careers. Rinn and Kathi Miner-Rubino, Texas A&M assistant professor of psychology, will spend the next three years using a $499,995 National Science Foundation Grant to study the issues.
The National Science Foundation has awarded a $499,995 grant to researchers at the University of Houston-Downtown and Texas A&M University to explore why more women are not entering and continuing in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, degree programs and careers.
Kathi Miner-Rubino, Texas A&M assistant professor of psychology, serves as principal investigator and Anne Rinn, UHD assistant professor of psychology is co-principal investigate for, the grant that will study students at both Texas universities during the course of the next three years.
The study, called “The Influence of Educational Climate on College Women’s Attrition from STEM Fields,” will examine how educational climates, perceptions, aspirations, performance, demographics and resources affect the underrepresentation of women in these professions.
“Women, and especially minority women, are hugely underrepresented in STEM fields,” says Rinn, who has been with UHD’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences since 2007. “The study, by identifying barriers that cause them to turn away from degree programs they once desired, can be used to implement programs that will help remove those barriers.”
In 2004, the National Science Foundation reported that despite an increase of women earning STEM degrees, the number of women practicing in the fields was still relatively small – 21 to 35 percent. A separate 2004 report, by University of Minnesota Professor in History of Science and Technology Sally Gregory Kohlstedt found that women, especially women of color, leave STEM fields at a significantly higher rate than men.
The joint Texas A&M – UHD project will include research on students from each institution. They are two very different universities; the former is a predominately white, research university and the latter is a minority-serving, predominately undergraduate university. Rinn and Miner-Rubino believe a comparative evaluation of how educational climate affects women in these different educational environments will add value to their research.
“We are looking at barriers that should not exist in this century,” says Rinn, who started college as mathematics major. “Women professionals can have a major impact on STEM fields, and we want to see why they are leaving.”
UHD undergraduate students in psychology will collect data and assist with the research for the grant as part of a special projects course.
NSF’s Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program supports efforts to understand and address gender-based differences in STEM education and workforce participation through research, the diffusion of research-based innovations, and extension services in education that will lead to a larger and more diverse domestic science and engineering workforce.
UHD prepares people for careers and life through academic programs, research and public service that respond to the needs of our increasingly global society. At UHD, research is an important element of the academic environment. Faculty design research projects that often give students the opportunity for hands-on experience at the undergraduate level.