An assistant professor of biology at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City was recently awarded a grant for the first CUNY program designed to encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as STEM.
Preethi Radhakrishnan was given $30,000 from the Elsevier Foundation, which supports programs to help early to mid-career women scientists balance family responsibilities with demanding careers in science, health and technology.
At a time when emphasis is being placed on the role that STEM plays in the country’s competitiveness in the global economy, Radhakrishnan, who has a doctorate in biology, hopes her project will address the glaring gap between men and women entering STEM fields.
“The first two years of a college career are considered key predictors of whether students will pursue a major in STEM fields,” she said. “This grant will increase women entering STEM fields, gaining research experience and in successfully graduating with a STEM degree in hand.”
This month, LaGuardia launched its four-prong initiative that will target women who show potential in having successful careers within the STEM majors.
Workshops, research internships, scholarships and childcare assistance will all be offered and the program will be open to all CUNY community college students as well.
The workshops are designed to inform women about the STEM opportunities offered at the school and a panel discussion featuring women in pre-health and science careers will give the students examples of women who have succeeded in the field.
“The project aims to provide those women who have passion and drive to succeed in science with the toolkit necessary for making informed career choices,” Radhakrishnan said.
The professor, who has worked at LaGuardia for two years, examined recent research that shows that part of the reason women remain a minority in STEM fields is due to a stigma attached to young women as early as high school who are interested in science and math.
In addition, at community colleges, many women do not have the financial support and childcare assistance they need to devote the time to successfully pursue a STEM degree.
“Within two-year colleges in particular, the shortage of affordable childcare and the gender stereotypes that discourage women from pursuing careers in math and science are two of the biggest barriers holding women back in college,” said Radhakrishnan, who pointed out that while 58 percent of LaGuardia’s student population is female, less than 5 percent graduate with a STEM degree.
“By eliminating the barriers such as costs associated with tuition and childcare, LaGuardia will be a valuable training ground for women who wish to pursue degrees and, ultimately, careers in STEM fields,” she added.