Lilid Mendez, an 11th grader at Mervyn M. Dymally Sr. High School in South Los Angeles who is interested in pursuing a degree and “possibly” a future career in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field is encouraged yet guarded about the changing gender roles in the workforce.
“I do see some change—where women are going to work and not the men—but not a lot,” said Mendez. “But, for the most part, in the homes in my community, women are expected to stay home and do chores while men go off to work.”
Mendez is among the first cohort of students—12 from Dymally High School alone—in California State University, Dominguez Hills’ (CSUDH) new Women in STEM Education (WiSE) program. WiSE is designed to attract middle school through college-level female students to STEM, with an overall goal to help address the national need for more women in STEM jobs.
WiSE is a new program of CSUDH’s Center for Innovation in STEM Education (CISE), which works to broaden CSUDH’s STEM educational impact within the communities it serves through collaborations with school districts, community colleges, and local and national companies and organizations
“We reach out to a number of potential participants for this program, but it’s mainly provided for those who aspire to major in a STEM degree and pursue a career in a STEM-related field,” said Kamal Hamdan, Annenberg endowed professor and director of CISE. “We work closely to evaluate students’ aspirations before choosing them for WiSE, like the students at Dymally High. It would be the icing on the cake if they decided to come to Cal State Dominguez Hills.”
Students participating in WiSE are engaged in a number of activities, according to Hamdan, such as the STEM in Action Kids Conference, the STEM in Education Conference, and the STEM Lab School, which enables them to serve the community.
The WiSE women also take field trips to companies and organizations on the cutting edge of STEM research and development, such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Northrup Grumman, as well as research excursions with CSUDH faculty who work in the field.
“Visiting these giants [companies] in the STEM workforce will be wonderful for the WiSE students,” said Hamdan. “But I truly believe in my heart that the field trips they take with our CSUDH faculty into the field to experience the passion and commitment of those working in such areas as Earth science, life science, or the physical sciences are equally, if not more powerful.”
Dymally High School Principal Simone Charles (’86, B.A, communications, minor in economics; ’94, M.A., bilingual multi-cultural education), believes that when students can see women “who look like them” in a variety of STEM roles, particularly their teachers, it often “opens eyes” to their potential future aspirations.
The teachers in my entire science department are female. We have Latina, African American and Asian scientists. So our young ladies are seeing women in the sciences firsthand. -Simone Charles
“The teachers in my entire science department are female. We have Latina, African American and Asian scientists. So our young ladies are seeing women in the sciences firsthand,” said Charles. “These are female scientists who they can directly relate to, who they can use and see as role models. It’s now tangible for them. They are connecting on a personal level, on an educational level, and on a scientific mindset level.”
Like Mendez, Charles also believes there is still a lot that needs to be done to both attract girls to STEM education and change perceptions about women’s role in the workplace.
“We are still so underrepresented in the STEM fields. Girls and young women have amazing minds and they just need to have them opened up,” said Charles. “Historically, we haven’t been given the opportunity, but now more and more we are connecting young women to science and technology through dynamic programs like WiSE. So the sky’s the limit.”
Click here to apply to the WiSE program, or call (310) 243-2634 to learn more.