Data shows men dominate science and engineering faculty at the U

Women account for only 10 percent of CSE faculty.

Data shows men dominate science and engineering faculty at the U

Jill Jensen

At times during her 11 years in the School of Mathematics, Carme Calderer has been the lone woman.

When she first took the job, there was only one other woman in her department. She’s one of three today.

There is a wide gender gap with faculty in the College of Science and Engineering — only 10 percent of its almost 400 faculty members are women. Campuswide, women make up about 30 percent of faculty at the University of Minnesota, but they account for more than half of all Twin Cities students.

The lack of female representation throughout the entire pipeline has faculty worried the disparity will continue. The gender gap could discourage potential students from pursuing a field in math or science, possibly creating feelings of social isolation for female faculty members.

“We’re trying things, and I wish there was a magic button that we could push and it would automatically turn to equity, but it doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Wayne Gladfelter, CSE’s associate dean of academic affairs.

Calderer, who grew up in Barcelona, Spain, said it’s more common for women in Europe to pursue math and science fields than in the U.S. She said a gender gap of this size is “not normal.”

This year, women make up almost 11 percent of the 392 faculty members in CSE. That’s a six-person increase since five years ago.

The Department of Chemistry has consistently had the highest number of women working in its department, with seven this year.

Other departments like aerospace engineering and mechanics and biomedical engineering have hovered between one and two women since 2007.

CSE is “keenly aware” of the gender gap and is taking action to increase the number of female faculty members in departments, Gladfelter said.

Its goal is to have one out of every five hires be a woman. Gladfelter said three out of 14 hires for the 2011-12 academic year were women.

The college would eventually like women to make up a third of faculty — the “magic number” to make them feel less separated or like a minority, he said.

Gladfelter said of the few women who pursue doctorate degrees in the science and math fields, even fewer choose the academic route. This semester about 550, or 22 percent, of graduate students in CSE are women.

That makes fewer women available for top research universities nationwide.

“You’re looking at a couple people for the entire United States,” Gladfelter said.

Alena Talkachova, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, had offers from other U.S. universities with “nicer weather” but ultimately chose the University of Minnesota because of the friendly environment and neighboring industries, she said.

When earning her master’s degree in physics, she was the only girl in her class. Not much has changed — she is currently one of two women in her department.

It’s a “trickle-down” issue, said associate professor Beth Stadler, one of two women in the electrical and computer engineering department. Of the120 students taking her class last semester, only eight were women.

The solution relies on getting more young girls interested and involved in science and mathematics-related fields early on.

She said she holds circuit summer camps, “Circuits are a Snap,” that about a handful of girls attended the first year. After implementing a week specifically for girls ages 9 to 11, she saw more signing up on the co-ed weeks, too.

Stadler said, “I think there’s just a feeling that it’s a field that the boys do more.”