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News & Events

11-18-2004

More Women In Math And Science At Clarkson - Mirrors National Trend

[A photograph for newspaper use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/mangan.jpg]

When Niall Mangan was a high school student back in McAllen, Texas, researching colleges and degree programs, she knew what she wanted right from the start.

“From an early age I have been drawn to the sciences and mathematics,” said Mangan, a freshman Honors student at Clarkson University. “I have always liked puzzles. My parents raised me on puzzles. When I got to school, math and science were just larger puzzles which I was usually pretty good at figuring out. I like logic and I like it when the pieces fit together. I like the idea of spending my life making the puzzles scientists have already starting working on more complete.”mangan

Mangan’s decision to pursue an education in the sciences is part of a national trend in undergraduate education.  Although women have traditionally been dominant in the social sciences, their numbers in the life sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics are now increasing substantially.

According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, the percentage of bachelor’s degrees earned by women in science programs since the 1980s has increased steadily. In 1981, women earned 30.1 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded that year in chemistry and 44.5 percent of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in biology. By 1996, women earned 41.5 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and the majority (52.9 percent) of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in biology. The percentage of women earning degrees in these fields continues to rise.

At Clarkson, female biology majors outnumber males by a nearly two-to-one ratio. And in chemistry, biomolecular science, and mathematics, the numbers of male and female majors are almost identical.

James R. Pratt, dean of Clarkson’s School of Arts and Sciences, finds the interest that young women show in math and science gratifying but not surprising. “The young women we see coming to Clarkson are bright and ambitious.  They see opportunities to explore their fields of interest and prepare for careers and professions. 

“I think the increased enrollment that we are seeing is the result of a host of influences, including special educational programs that encourage young women to consider new career paths, and support from schools and families that confirm for young women the importance of university education and the accessibility of technical fields.”

Institutions of higher learning are developing programs designed to cultivate the next generation of women scientists and engineers. Eighteen years ago, Clarkson created the Horizon programs, intensive residential summer programs designed to encourage and inspire middle school-aged girls who display an aptitude and strong interest in science and math. Through Horizon, more than 200 girls each summer are introduced to the excitement of science, math, engineering and technology through hands-on activities and team projects — from building working robots to mixing up magic in the laboratory.

Clarkson faculty has also developed the highly successful K-12 Project-Based Learning Partnership Program that is funded by the National Science Foundation. The program is designed to increase middle school students' interest and participation in the sciences and engineering through hands-on projects and partnerships with college mentors.  Partners in Education, another educational outreach initiative, also uses a project-based learning format to educate middle school girls about the relevance and usefulness of science and engineering within a larger social, political and economic context.

Clarkson reaches out nationally to both promising female and male students who display an aptitude for science and engineering with cash scholarships up to $10,000 per year. Once enrolled at Clarkson, students find that the opportunities for hands-on research continue.

Earlier this year, Mangan spent the summer working in the laboratory of Edward Moczydlowski, chair of the Department of Biology at Clarkson and an expert in the study of how channel proteins are sabotaged by naturally occurring neurotoxins.

“When I came up for the summer I had very little understanding of the project I would be working on, the stable expression of recombinant saxiphilin, a protein, in insect cells.  While in the lab, I was treated both as a student and a researcher. The other members of the lab taught me the processes and theory while I worked on the saxiphilin project.  I cultured the insect cells that produced saxiphilin as they grew. I then purified saxiphilin from the insect cells using chromatography. By the end of the summer, I had gained more lab experience than I had in my four years of high school.”

The benefits and importance of research opportunities at Clarkson was echoed by Halimatu Mohammed, an undergraduate chemistry major. “I am getting excellent training, particularly in honing my scientific presentation skills and in working as part of a research team,” said Mohammed, who transferred to Clarkson in 2003 from Bronx Community College. “I have opportunities to work with faculty and on research that I would not have at other institutions.  Clarkson is giving me technical experience I will need in the outside world.”

Earlier this fall, Mohammed received the Acres of Diamonds Award from the Minority Trainee Research Forum (MTRF) for her scientific research paper “Selective Deprotection of D-6, 3-Glucuronolactone Derivatives,” as part of a national competition sponsored by MTRF.

Last summer, Mohammed was one of 15 students selected across the country to participate in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Dalian University of Technology in China. The REU program is administered by Hayley Shen and Hung Tao Shen, both professors in Clarkson’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Mohammed has also worked on polymer assembly in the laboratory of Professor of Chemistry Devon Shipp for three semesters, and is working on her Honors and Chemistry Department senior thesis, “Synthesis and Characterization of Multifunctional Polymeric Nanospheres.”

“Ultimately, one of our goals in Clarkson’s School of Arts and Sciences is to educate and train the next generation of scientific and technical leaders,” said Pratt. “With expanded educational and job opportunities, women now have a greater role to play than ever before. Based on the credentials of our incoming students and the careers of our graduates, our educational model, which balances classroom learning with hands-on learning and research projects, is a highly successful one.”

Clarkson University, located in Potsdam, New York, is an independent university with a reputation for developing innovative leaders in engineering, business, liberal arts, and the sciences. Its academically rigorous, collaborative culture involves 2,700 undergraduates and 380 graduate students in hands-on team projects, multidisciplinary research, and real-world challenges. Many faculty members achieve international recognition for their scholarship and research, and teaching is a priority at every level. For more information, visit http://www.clarkson.edu.

PHOTO CAPTION: Clarkson University first-year student Niall Mangan of McAllen, Texas, sets up a Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify DNA for the protein saxiphilin as part of a research project being conducted in the laboratory of Edward Moczydlowski, chair of the Department of Biology at Clarkson. Mangan’s decision to pursue an education in the sciences is consistent with a national trend in undergraduate education.  Although women have traditionally been dominant in the social sciences, their numbers in the life sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics are now increasing substantially at Clarkson and at universities across the U.S.
[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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