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LUC Sees Higher Number of Female STEM Grads and Professors

Photo Courtesy of Loyola University ChicagoGirls Who Code at Loyola is run by Loyola students and volunteers and is part of a national organization which educates and promotes young females interested in the field.

Loyola senior Eunice Montenegro studies information technology and said she’s grateful Loyola has a higher percentage of female science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates and professors than other universities.

About 48 percent of Loyola’s STEM graduates in 2016 were women, according to a study conducted by the Wall Street Journal, which ranked Loyola seventh nationally for the highest percentage of female STEM graduates. Georgetown University — another Jesuit university — was ranked sixth, according to the study.

“When you talk to people from other schools, sometimes they’ll say they’re the only girls in projects,” Montenegro said. “I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many girls inside my classes. I’m doing a project right now with three other girls which is rare within computer science.”

Loyola’s percentage is higher than the national average of female STEM graduates, which is 35 percent, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that aims to advance women’s positions in companies.

Loyola’s entire student body is 65 percent women, according to Loyola’s 2017-18 diversity report. It’s unclear whether this ratio plays a role in the number of female STEM graduates.  

Montenegro said Loyola is good at showcasing the multitude of opportunities within STEM which she said could be a reason more women get involved in STEM programs.

Almost 30 undergraduate degrees at Loyola are considered STEM, along with 40 graduate and continuing education programs, according to a document from Loyola. Some examples include chemistry, biology and computer science.

About 37 percent of permanent STEM professors — full-time professors or professors working on multiple year contracts — at Loyola are women, according to Evangeline Politis, Loyola’s spokesperson. This percentage exceeds the national average for female professors in STEM departments.

Due to the smaller percentage of females in STEM fields, women report gender discrimination in STEM workplaces more often than women in other careers, according to a study by The Pew Research Center, an organization which conducts public opinion polls and research.

Sherita Moses is one of two female physics professors at Loyola among a staff of nine instructors. She said she loves her department and hasn’t faced sexism since she started working at Loyola three years ago.

Moses said the lack of female STEM professors nationally could be because women her age were just starting to break out of traditional gender roles and pursue careers in STEM.

“In my generation, we were just moving out of a time period when the roles of women were to stay at home, cook, clean, take care of children,” Moses said. “[Women] weren’t encouraged to get into these fields — of science, technology, engineering, mathematics — that were dominated by men.”

Typically, women make up about 18 to 31 percent of STEM professors at universities, according to a 2016 study by the Brookings Institute, a non-profit research organization.  

Although the university has more female STEM professors overall, the 37 to 63 percent female to male ratio of professors at Loyola still isn’t equal and individual departments’ numbers vary.

Maria Nowicki, a sophomore studying physics, said the lack of accessible female role models in Loyola’s program can be difficult, but she appreciates the female professors who are available to her.

“The two women in our department are just completely unbelievable,” Nowicki, 19 said. “We had an event last semester where we got to eat pizza and chat with the female faculty and learning about their stories was great. Those women are amazing.”

Although more women graduate at Loyola with STEM degrees than the national average, female students are still the minority in some programs, such as physics.

Sophomore Zalia Cook studies physics and said although she finds the physics department is supportive, it can still be startling to walk into a room to see a few other women.

“It’s not like I feel that I’m not accepted here as a girl, but walking into a room filled with guys makes you feel more conscious of making sure you’re saying the right thing and asking good questions,“ Cook, 20, said.

Cook said even though the numbers of girls are higher at Loyola, there could still be more, especially in the physics department.

In the environmental science department, nine of the 12 faculty members are women, according to Politis.

First-year Julie Malnak, who studies environmental science, said she feels more comfortable engaging with women unless the male professor seems overly accessible or friendly.

“I notice that when I have a class I feel more comfortable approaching a woman teacher,” Malnak, 18, said. “I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m afraid of a male teacher or that I don’t like them because they’re a male teacher. Women are just a little more approachable, at least in my experience.”

Bren Ortega Murphy, a women and gender studies and communications professor at Loyola, has led seminars on how businesses can better retain female talent. She said something that can impact a woman’s success is whether or not she has diverse, relatable role models in her field of interest.

“If there are reasonable role models and the idea that you can see a pathway for yourself, that makes a huge difference,” Murphy said. “But, you can’t just will that into being, there has to be somebody.”

Montenegro said female professors are inspiring because they had the ability to pursue multiple high-level degrees.

“It’s pretty cool that the amount of women isn’t only something you see in the student body but also something that you can see in the faculty,” Montenegro, 22,  said. “It’s cool to see that those women are involved with technology and it’s something they pursue with a bachelor’s, a master’s and a Ph.D.”

An earlier version of this article published a source’s name as Eunice Montemetro. The story has since been updated with the correct spelling, Eunice Montenegro.

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