Mexican women in STEM by Aleyda Villavicencio

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For Hernandez and Andrade the goal is clear: to promote and encourage the participation of more young students in STEM fields, but they both share an interest in increasing the number of girls and women who can access the resources available.

Oficina - STEM

Women in many countries face obstacles to careers in science and technology, but in Mexico, the challenges can be particularly daunting.
 

By Aleyda Villavicencio

 

Women in many countries face obstacles to careers in science and technology, but in Mexico, the challenges can be particularly daunting.

According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “women are the most underestimated resource in Mexico. Even though their achievements in education are now comparable to those achieved by men.”

The study shows that school dropout and adolescent pregnancy are among the first causes women do not complete high school in that country. “Mexico has the highest proportion of births among women between the ages of 15 and 19, with 74 births per 1,000 women, compared with the average 15 births in the rest of the countries.”

The Mexican Department of Education recognized they must promote efforts in the education field not only to solve the school dropout of girls, or the very high rate of adolescent pregnancy but also to encourage them to pursue an education in STEM; science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to the Mexican Department of Education, the number of young Mexican women entering the workforce in STEM careers is insufficient. Even though women make up nearly half of the working population, they remain underrepresented in STEM occupations. In 2011, 26 percent of STEM workers were women, and 74 percent were men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Sarah Wagner, 23, a research associate at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, recently published a study that considers the influence of “support and encouragement” upon young women’s likelihood of choosing a STEM career.

Wagner explains that studies on this subject traditionally consider factors such as self-efficacy, confidence and feminine role models, among others. But fewer studies have analyzed the strength of “support and encouragement” in influencing young women.

Wagner found that both women and men are more likely to report wanting to enter a STEM career when they are encouraged by someone to do so, and women report their home environment as being more supportive of children pursuing careers in science, than men.

Selene Sandoval, 37, said she always had her family’s support to study engineering, but the real motivation to continue with her studies came from another woman who finished her doctorate in engineering abroad and motivated her to do the same.

The influence of speaking to someone she could relate to was the encouragement she needed to apply for a scholarship and move out of her hometown, Sandoval said.

Sandoval is currently studying for a doctorate in material science and engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson and is planning to start her own business after she graduates. She explains with frustration how even at the doctoral level, men look at her with disbelief when she talks about her intentions.

“When I tell them my plans of becoming my own boss and opening a company to create jobs back in my hometown, they look at me with a mocking smile,” she said. “I don’t know why they think that’s funny.”

 

Wagner’s research also found that encouragement by a high school teacher is more influential to young men and women than even parents and expert’s motivation.
Paola Hernandez, 31, is a doctoral candidate in applied life sciences at Keck Graduate Institute. She was 13 when her biology teacher showed the class a resin-encapsulated embryo and told them that, “that little thing” could become a dog, a cat, or a human, depending on what its cells dictate. She later explained that genes could be deliberately altered to obtain specific results.

The example may not have been entirely accurate, but the teacher certainly got her point across, and at least one girl in her class fixed upon the idea that she could someday achieve such a feat.

“The moment I realized I could manipulate genetic information to have a dog, a cat, or a chimpanzee if I wanted to, I said, wow! I want to change things,” said Hernandez. “I didn’t know where, when or how, but from that moment on I was certain that I wanted to study genetic engineering.”

 

On February the Mexican government presented an initiative for women from STEM disciplines to be part of a support network for young Mexican students. The plan will launch talks, mentoring programs and workshops with the objective of promoting the integration of more women in this area.

Other non-governmental organizations, such as Clubes de Ciencia México (Mexico Science Clubs) are also contributing to expand access to high quality science education and to inspire and mentor the future generation of scientists and innovators in Mexico.

Patricia Andrade, 32, digital marketing manager at Clubes de Ciencia México, said they are looking closely at the gender equality issue during the selection of both instructors and students participating.

“There is a greater number of male applicants,” said Andrade. “But we are making sure we balance our teams as much as possible to get a 50/50 distribution of men and women.”

 

It is important to encourage more women to participate, and to connect young women in Mexico with first-hand role-models of what they can achieve, said Hernandez, who is also a board member of Clubes de Ciencia México.

“How could a girl who lives in a distant town in Yucatan and studies in a small rural school think that she could someday go to a university abroad?” she said. “But if I was able to do it, she can do it too.”

 

For Hernandez and Andrade the goal is clear: to promote and encourage the participation of more young students in STEM fields, but they both share an interest in increasing the number of girls and women who can access the resources available.

“We have to open doors and build bridges, and that’s what we do through Clubes de Ciencia México: we bring scientists to different cities around the country to teach hands-on cutting-edge science workshops and at the same time, we empower several communities by fostering an environment of camaraderie and ongoing support to make these things happen,” said Hernandez. “I believe that we, the privileged educated women with various academic degrees on this side of the border, have a social responsibility to go back [to Mexico] and take ownership, not only in STEM but in all fields that make deep changes in society.”

 

About Me: https://about.me/aleyda.villavicencio
Twitter: @aleydag
FaceBook: Aleyda Villavicencio
Blog: http://milunitatucumana.blogspot.com

 

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