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UI study shows fewer women interested in technology fields

BY AUDREY ROEN | NOVEMBER 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Women aren't as interested in technology as men, according to a recent study.

But University of Iowa officials say they have instilled several program and initiatives to pique women's interest in the technology and engineering field.

In a recent study conducted by the University of Iowa Professor of business Frank Schmidt, women score lower on technical-aptitude tests compared with men, because of a general lack of interest.

Programs to attract women to the engineering program include the Women In Science and Engineering, living learning communities for women, and student groups such as Society of Women and Engineers, said UI engineering-admissions official Jane Dorman.

The UI surpasses national statistics of women enrolled in engineering programs.

Nationally, 17 percent of engineering students are female, Dorman said, and 20 percent of currently enrolled engineering majors are female.

"At a young age, women are often shunted into reading activities at an earlier age," said Chris Peterson Brus, the director of the Women In Science and Engineering.

She said this affects skills and interests of women later on, "… just as men have more practice earlier on when throwing a football, figuring out where to catch it, in visual spatial skills."

However, the study said some women who are interested can still perform better than men.

"… [women] would do just as well because of the average equality of general intelligence," Schmidt said.

According to a fall 2011 report from the Office of the Registar, 22 women are majoring in mechanical engineering, compared with 23 in 2010 and 18 in 2009.

And UI faculty members agree female enrollment has increased but in smaller numbers.

Ralph Stephens, a UI mechanical engineering professor, said roughly a dozen of his 58 senior students are women.

"Yet after 47 years of teaching, that number has gone up infinitely," he said.

In his research, Schmidt said, a lack of interest in technology stems from childhood where general interests help form lifelong interests well into adulthood. The more technology the child interacts with, the more knowledgeable they will be when testing.

For example, Schmidt said, boys are generally more interested in technical things such as fixing a bike.

UI professors said Schmidt's data may be due to low female enrollment and interest in engineering.
Professors said they have noticed female engineering students tend to gravitate toward more human-related fields, such as biomedical engineering.

"I think female students like to see engineering more relevant to the human life and in biomedical engineering," said UI mechanical engineering Professor Olesya Zhupanska.

Schdmidt found that females present a greater general intelligence than men, despite lower scores.

"… and that is just a fact of life," Schmidt said. "Some would say it's an important fact of life, and maybe we can increase the abilities of men and women … General intelligence is most important."

And professors, such as Zhupanska, said female students tend to excel more.

Despite these differences of interests presented by Schmidt, that didn't stop Elizabeth Risius from majoring in computer science.

"In high school, I loved math and science, but I didn't know what to do with it," Risius said. "I was not a gamer, I didn't spend hours playing video games, but that's something that guys tend to gravitate toward and become more interested in. In that aspect, we haven't had he exposure to the types of things that guys are interested in."


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