Female students at Oklahoma Christian University are showing an increased interest in fields relating to science, technology, engineering and mathematics — better known as STEM.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Lori Garman said she has recently noticed a rising number of students looking to pursue a degree in biology.
“We have seen, in biology, our student body grow,” Garman said. “The number of our majors has increased pretty drastically in the last few years.”
Garman said she believes the reason for this growing interest may be due to the university’s attempt to encourage women to pursue majors in the STEM field. She said Oklahoma Christian offers programs to support these women, having both students and professors work to promote these opportunities.
“The other thing that I feel like OC is doing a really good job with right now is that we are encouraging particularly women in STEM to stay within the field,” Garman said. “They started a ‘women in STEM’ program which has now become Scientista, and that group, along with some other groups, I think is really beneficial for women particularly to feel like they have a support system.”
According to Garman, Oklahoma Christian’s Scientista chapter is unique because it encourages male membership. She said Scientista members originally felt as if this club diversity would unify students across STEM majors — benefiting both males and females.
“That club is really intended to encourage females that are in STEM, to encourage their retention,” Garman said. “We are the first Scientista chapter that has male members, and we have sort of intentionally done that. We talked about it at the beginning of ratifying the club. We all agreed that we’d really like male feminists to be a part of the club, and so I think that’s been really beneficial to men too.”
Garman said the biology department provides students with resources to help them succeed. Professors try to make students aware of future opportunities and help them set goals to work towards, according to Garman.
“We are intentionally putting in infrastructure and support so that students have a place to go if they are in need of academic or personal help,” Garman said. “The biology department, I feel like, actually does a really good job of telling student where they can go after college.”
Senior Aubrey Gonzalez said she is involved in STEM through both engineering and science. She said female students seem to be gaining an interest in these departments and believes job-market reliability may have contributed to this awareness.
“I’m seeing more and more people, girls in particular, be interested in STEM,” Gonzalez said. “The job market is tough, and a lot of people are seeing that these STEM jobs are really good ways to get paid really well out of college — a lot less uncertainty sometimes than some other fields.”
From her experience, for a future in electrical engineering and as a physicians assistant, Gonzalez said both departments have positive characteristics. She said the professors and sense of community contribute to the success of the two areas.
“The science departments here are pretty good [and] the professors in the biology department are awesome,” Gonzalez said. “The community in engineering is really, really good. That’s the thing I would say that sets it apart — the classmates make getting the degree more doable.”
Gonzalez said she is a director for Scientistas this year. She said the club is geared towards women, but it is not exclusively for women in STEM. In fact, Gonzalez said the club is hoping to gain more male professors who will support female STEM students.
“We also are going to try to find some male mentors that are really encouraging of women in STEM, because again, we want to see those numbers go up,” Gonzalez said. “If people feel like they are in a community, they’re going to want to stay in that major more and so we kind of try to provide that.”
Gonzalez said she hopes students will realize they are capable of achieving a STEM degree. She said some people are intimidated by the perceived difficulty of the programs, but might miss a valuable opportunity if they don’t give it a try.
“I’m glad that more and more people are considering those fields because you could have the next great Nobel Prize winner, someone who could make a really big impact, and they might never get that career if they don’t think that’s an option for them,” Gonzalez said.
Senior biology major Jan Bian said she is glad there is a growing interest in her area of study. She said, although it is hard work, most people can accomplish getting a STEM degree. Bian said she hopes females will continue to show interest in STEM fields because they contribute new points of view.
“Our goal is to empower women specifically to feel like they are capable enough to go into a STEM field,” Bian said. “Men bring a unique perspective on things, and it’s important to have a female perspective on a lot of things. There has been a lot of research showing diversity in science and diversity in STEM fields increases creativity and productivity. It’s a good thing to have and we want to encourage that within the STEM fields.”