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Women of color staking a claim for cyber domain: Unpacking the racial /gender gap in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET)

Nancy H Sosnowski, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Women and girls of color are severely under-represented in the fields of Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (SMET). Research indicates that SMET will continue to be dominated by men unless we address the needs of women of color to gain entry and sustain a career in these fields. Women of color issues and concerns are often combined with those of white middle class women, thereby making it difficult to tease out what is important to them in relationship to SMET. This qualitative research project was conducted at a large public university over a three month period with a group of women of color undergraduates, graduates and professionals in the field of engineering. Methods utilized included phenomenological in-depth interviews and observation. The study gave voice to what they encountered regarding access, recruitment, and retention to SMET careers, the gender and racial biased attitudes and practices that either supported or obstructed their determination to move forward along the engineering pipeline and the encouraging and discouraging relationships which supported or obstructed the women's determination to succeed in the field. The findings point out the important role engineering departments must take in lowering first year attrition rates by providing an inclusive, “women” friendly environment that provides same sex/race mentors, tutors and programs to encourage and support students through difficult times. Diversity workshops and programs should be created to inform faculty and administrators to develop more effective and respectful ways of communicating with different ethnicities. Creating inclusive pedagogy integrated with feminist frames and constructivist teaching methods whereby students lived reality is integrated into practical applications of knowledge would provide a more comprehensive, interesting and fun way to learn science, math and technology thereby alleviating the boredom often found in engineering courses. The study also identified the important role families played in the success of the women, especially the role of mother and daughter, which prepared these women academically and emotionally for the rigors of engineering. Moreover, K–12 teachers need to learn about, promote and facilitate skills development for girls of color to gain entry to SMET careers. One teacher can make a difference.

Subject Area

Educational software|African Americans|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Sosnowski, Nancy H, "Women of color staking a claim for cyber domain: Unpacking the racial /gender gap in science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET)" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056282.