To advance female representation in the STEAM fields and help foster connections among those female students, University Housing is piloting a program in fall 2017 called Women in STEAM, which will be a new Living Learning Community on campus.
From the LLC website, “Living Learning Communities are groups of freshman students who share academic goals and interests … live in designated residence halls, enroll in community-specific courses and participate in group activities designed to enhance learning.”
The new LLC program, spearheaded by University Housing LLC Director Mary Jane Partain and Computer Science Senior Lecturer Janell Straach, is the latest attempt on campus to provide female students with the support they need to excel in STEM fields.
Straach said she felt the pressure of such stereotypes during her college years and was upset to learn that the situation in STEM was no better for the next generation of women.
“The program is an educational and academic community of females meant to harbor a sense of companionship and belonging within their classes, their majors, and into their professional lives,” she said.
There are currently seven LLCs at UTD which are geared for freshmen, but Women in STEAM is the first LLC offered to sophomores, juniors and seniors with the express goal of helping female students feel more connected in their area of study, and to stick through to graduation and beyond. Twenty-eight applicants will be selected for the new program.
“We have 28 spots available in the program mostly because there were only that many apartments available, and because in the first test run of any program it must remain relatively small so that things don’t get out of control,” Partain said.
The new program welcomes female students majoring in engineering, computer science, arts and technology or emerging media and communication.
“While we don’t want to actively exclude anyone from this program, we also have practical limits. For example, we had to pick a few majors that are similar enough that the 28 students can easily relate to each other,” Partain said.
The program will be housed in the new Phase 7 apartment currently under construction. There will be one peer advisor serving as a liaison between the students and the main advocate of the program, Straach. Through this structure, Partain and Straach will seek feedback from the students to improve the program based on their needs.
Partain and Straach consulted a few campus organizations to understand what kinds of features and actions the students will find appealing.
The program will host numerous activities and events, such as inviting guest speakers from industry and academia to share their experiences and offer advice. The program will also engage in educational outreach at local public schools to inspire young minds.
It also aims to tackle issues with female representation in the workplace.
For instance, as Erik Sherman from ***Fortune*** magazine reports, “In 2013, only 26 percent of computing professionals were female — down considerably from 35 percent in 1990 and virtually the same as in 1960.”
“A major purpose for this program is to construct a pipeline for female students to follow from elementary school to their professional careers after college. Through various outreach and service activities, Women in STEAM will work to create a natural thread that future generations of female students can follow,” Partain said.
Women in STEAM is the first of its kind at UTD in its creation of a community of female students who are empowered by common connections.
“We definitely want to expand the program after this pilot run is a success, so that anyone who wants to be in the community and is eligible can be accepted,” Straach said.
Partain and Straach have decided to extend the deadline another month to April 21, because they want to make sure that as many eligible students as possible have a chance to apply.
There are no added costs to being a part of the Women in STEAM program.
“We truly just want to do our part in helping to build an environment where young women can achieve their goals,” Partain said.