Weekly Feature

2018-02-07 / Education

New program at UB aims to help women in STEM overcome gender discrimination

A new educational program, called the NAVIGATE Project, under development by a University at Buffalo-led, multidisciplinary research team aims to gender discrimination in the STEM fields. It will provide women graduate students with skills to recognize and overcome gender inequality, ultimately helping solve the gender gap these fields in the United States and elsewhere.

“We’re great at teaching women science and engineering, but we’ve done a poor job equipping them with skills to overcome gender discrimination, bias and inequity,” says Liesl Folks, a principal investigator of the research team, and dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The U.S. has made some progress addressing the gender gap in the STEM workforce. But problems persist. For example, women fill 47 percent of all U.S. jobs but only 24 percent of STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The research team, which has received nearly $500,000 in National Science Foundation grants, will address the problem by utilizing the case study teaching method, which presents content in a narrative format accompanied by questions and activities that promote group discussion and the solving of complex problems. Using the case study method in the classroom to develop problem-solving skills related to bias and discrimination will increase students’ confidence in dealing with real-world problems that they may encounter, either during their studies or in the workplace, Folks says.

For example, a group of students could be assigned a case that describes what it’s like to be a young female computer scientist who is continuously asked by her boss to join him for drinks after work. Because lessons are blended into compelling and relatable stories, students move beyond simply recalling knowledge to a much deeper understanding involving decision-making and analytical skills.

“The case study method allows students to work together and develop practical and strategic responses to scenarios. Our goal is not only for them to understand the complexity of barriers to women’s success and advancement in STEM workplaces but also learn the knowledge and skills needed to combat bias, discrimination, and inequities to persist in their fields.” says Coleen Carrigan, assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Social Sciences at California Polytechnic State University, also a principal investigator on the research team.

Researchers will create case studies based on lived experiences and then collect qualitative and quantitative data that evaluates how effective the cases are. The cases will be made available to the public through educational websites.

The team will benefit from UB’s expertise in the case study method, which has proven effective in business, law and other fields, but has not been studied as a tool to overcome gender inequality. UB is a host for the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, and Nancy Schiller, a co-principle investigator of the grants, is a co-director of the center.

The team will create case studies and then collect qualitative and quantitative data that evaluates how effective the cases are. The cases will be made available to the public through educational websites. Ultimately, the project aims to boost the number of women participating in the STEM workforce at all levels, and may be adopted for other underrepresented groups in the STEM workforce, Folks says.

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