Progress of women in the geosciences: Insight from a small liberal arts university
Helen A. Eifert, Alexander K. Stewart, 2018. "Progress of women in the geosciences: Insight from a small liberal arts university ", Women and Geology: Who Are We, Where Have We Come From, and Where Are We Going?, Beth A. Johnson
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Women have historically been underrepresented in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, specifically within geosciences. St. Lawrence University (SLU; ~2400 undergraduates) is bucking that trend with a 19th ranking by Forbes magazine for best colleges for women and minorities in STEM (~60% of majors are female). Specifically, SLU’s geology program has been distinguished for decades due to the individual support and real-world opportunities provided for its students. These characteristics can lend themselves more broadly to improvements for female participation in the geosciences. From the 898 geology graduates since 1950, we analyzed patterns of female involvement using geology department alumnae/i records. Our particular focus was on the top three cohorts of peak female graduation rates: 1978–1982 (n = 60), 1997–2001 (n = 28), and 2012–2016 (n = 28). These data show increased female participation in research within the most recent cohort (2012–2016) with women averaging 71% of senior theses compared to 32% (1997–2001) and 16% (1978–1982). Moreover, the likelihood of women in the department to complete a senior thesis has increased from 13% to 43%, supported by a new fellowship program. These results were qualitatively verified by personal observations of the current geology student body. All geology department students are privileged with opportunities for research, travel, and individual attention. These experiences, combined with our close-knit group of professors and students, are positive aspects of the SLU Geology Department used to construct an applicable model. Current SLU female geology enrollment continues to be strong, showing that this model may strengthen the undergraduate experience and inspire increased female geoscience participation.
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Women have been a part of the story of geology from the beginning, but they have struggled to gain professional opportunities, equal pay, and respect as scientists for decades. Some have been dismissed, some have been forced to work without pay, and some have been denied credit. This volume highlights the progress of women in geology, including past struggles and how remarkable individuals were able to overcome them, current efforts to draw positive attention and perceptions to women in the science, and recruitment and mentorship efforts to attract and retain the next generation of women in geology. Chapters include the first American women researchers in Antarctica, a survey of Hollywood disaster movies and the casting of women as geologists, social media campaigns such as #365ScienceSelfies, and the stories of the Association for Women Geoscientists and the Earth Science Women’s Network and their work to support and mentor women in geology.