Monday, June 1, 2015

The Struggle for Women in STEM

In my research of my junior theme topic on women in science, I came across some startling numbers. In 2012, the percentage of women that indicated an interest in majoring in science and engineering fields in college was 33.5%, while the percentage of men who indicated the same interest was 45.8% (National Science Foundation). These seemed like perfect statistics to begin my paper - why was the science career gap between genders so wide three years ago, and can we still see it today? For the answer to my first question, I turned to the media - specifically, commercials.

In my experience in being constantly bombarded with advertisements for all sorts of items on TV, I have found that it's not uncommon for ads to be geared towards a specific gender. For example, Barbie doll ads are usually geared towards young girls, who are shown playing with the dolls, while some other toy like superhero-themed Legos are geared more towards young boys. Many companies fall prey to these gendered ads, and in the 1970s, Apple was no different. The first home computer was released by Apple in 1977, and the commercials advertising the product were wildly gendered. I watched a couple of them, one that aired in 1985, and took notes on it. The young male character named "Brian" (who, we find out, wants to be an astronaut) goes to school and uses an Apple computer while the narrator says: “Whatever Brian wants to be, an Apple personal computer can help him be it” (YouTube). What I found very fascinating about this ad was the way the young male character leans over to the young female's computer and fiddles with her program, as if to mess her computer up. Even as I viewed it, the message that the commercial sent out was that boys were allowed to play with computers, while girls would only ever be subject to someone messing their program up and wouldn't become "an astronaut or marine biologist" like Brian (YouTube).

I was linked to this video from an NPR article titled "When Women Stopped Coding," which suggests that the gendered commercials may have had an impact on how many women went into science in the 1970s. A graph displayed on the website shows that since 1965, the amount of women in medical school, law school, and the physical sciences steadily rose - but later in 1985, the amount of women in computer science dropped drastically because “as personal computers became more common, computer science professors increasingly assumed that their students had grown up playing with computers at home” (NPR). However, many times the only students that grew up with computers were the boys, thus making them more able to keep up with their professors because they came into a class knowing how to use a computer, while the girls had been left behind and now struggled to understand the computers the way their male counterparts did. My interviewee, Jessica Kinzelman, supported this theory that gendered commercials contributed to the fall of women in computer-based careers, as she had entered into Texas A&M as a chemical engineering major, only to find that she was the only woman in her class and "didn’t even know how to turn the computer on" (Personal interview).

Obviously, this is only one theory out of many possible ones that can explain the fall of women in STEM classes or careers, but I do think that it is a very valid argument to be made.

What do you think about gendered commercials and how they contribute to the lack of women in STEM? Do you think this argument should be considered when analyzing how to get more women back into STEM careers?

22 Dead in Texas as Floodwaters Rise

The death toll in Texas has risen to 22 as a result of the torrential flooding that occurred over Memorial Day weekend. CNN reports: "So much rain has fallen this May on flood-ravaged Texas that it could cover the entire state with 8 inches of water." Even my hometown, Houston, fell victim to the extreme weather conditions. Many of my friends still living there said that school had been cancelled on Friday because of the flooding.

A car stuck in floodwater along Interstate 45 in Houston
Alyssa Ramierez, the homecoming queen of Devine High School in Devine, Texas, died in the floodwaters after her senior prom "around 2:45 a.m. Sunday within sight of [her] home about two miles away" (KTLA). This saddening story and many others that have begun to surface in the wake of this disaster only serve to highlight how disastrous the rain has been in Texas. 
Floodwaters rose above cars as shown in this photo

UFO or Meteor?

Two weeks ago on Saturday night at about 10:45 when I went outside to look at the sky, (it was a particularly clear night and I wanted to see the stars) I happened to look at the east quadrant of the sky and caught a bright green light streaking through the sky, and not like a plane or satellite - this was a bright, bright greenish-yellow light. Originally I thought it was something that fell out of the light on my street, but the light disappeared behind the line of trees.

So what was this mysterious light? I was fairly doubtful that it was an "unidentified flying object." I mean, I love Roswell as much as the next Netflix watcher, but it seemed highly unlikely. So I had to assume that this light was a meteor falling into the Earth's orbit.

The Geminid meteor shower in December
A basic Google search of "meteor shower 2015" will bring up numerous "meteor calendars" - that is, a chart of specific dates and approximate times of when you'll be able to see meteor showers. (For context, a meteor shower is any grouping of meteors that appear to come from one point in the sky as a result of the Earth passing through a steady stream of particles in its orbit. A specific shower is named for the constellation that most closely matches to where it appears the meteors are coming from, i.e. the Alpha Capricornids.) I've checked all the calendars since that night, and the only shower scheduled to happen in May was the Eta Aquariids, from April 19-May 26, with its peak night from May 6-7.

If you have any other theories as to what this light was or if you saw the light for yourself, feel free to leave a comment below!