Women in STEM: 10 female professors advancing the cause

By Aimee Hosler

Science has a girl problem. Though women are statistically more likely to attend and excel in college than men, they remain grossly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. That could spell trouble, and not just for the women left out of the STEM equation. According to Nature, women in STEM progress scientific knowledge and achievement by boosting innovation and creativity. They also help ensure new research does not alienate half the population. Some experts blame this gender gap on cultural bias, while others say girls are just too good at other things. Whatever the cause, the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence believes at least part of the solution is cultivating more female STEM role models, especially in the classroom. Fortunately, there are a number of female STEM professors already spearheading that effort, and often quite deliberately. Here are ten of them.

10 professors who support, inspire women in STEM

Rodica Baranescu, professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In a way, Professor Baranescu is working to save the world (or its environment) through the research and development of low emission diesel engines. She is an accomplished STEM professional who has traveled the globe giving lectures, authored two Romanian patents and penned a number of scholarly articles. As the first woman president of SEA International, the largest automotive society in the world, she is also an excellent role model for the next generation of women in STEM.

Carol Ferguson, professor of biology at Southern Oregon University. Professor Ferguson does not just teach biology; she advances the field by studying and protecting rare or endangered plant species throughout the Pacific Northwest. In 2012, Ferguson and her colleague, chemistry professor Hala Shepmann, were selected to participate in the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE program, a network of peer mentors that strive to help women STEM faculty succeed. Through her participation, Ferguson helps researchers uncover why women do not participate in STEM, and what the field can do about it.

Cheryl Geisler, dean and professor of communication, art and technology at Simon Fraser University. Cheryl Geisler has earned a reputation for excellence in the classroom, as her exhaustive list of grants, gifts and fellowships can attest. As dean of her department, she is also an established leader. Yes, she has earned her rock star STEM professor status, but she takes her job as role model a step further by actively promoting the attainment and retention of women in STEM, including within the academe. Not only does she serve as chair of the Rhetoric Society of America's Task Force on Gender Equity, but has also researched and written extensively on the STEM gender gap.

Peggy Mason, professor of neurobiology at the University of Chicago. When she is not studying or teaching others about the human brain, Professor Mason is working to support women both in and out of the sciences. From 2010 to 2012, Mason was one of twelve faculty members heading the university's Women's Leadership Council, a group dedicated to recruiting and retaining "highly qualified female academics" in all disciplines. She also helped launch the Chicago Collaboration for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, which support the advancement of women faculty specifically in STEM.

Kristen Maitland, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University. Professor Maitland's CV underscores her accomplishments as an optical imaging researcher and STEM professor, but she has also earned recognition for her efforts to help women succeed. In 2013, Maitland won the Texas A&M Women's Progress Award for her work "promoting sensitivity to and awareness of" women's issues. When she isn't teaching or advocating women's progress, Maitland serves as principal investigator for her institution's Biomedical Optics Lab.

Maja J. Mataric, professor and Chan Soon-Shiong chair of computer science, neuroscience and pediatrics at the University of Southern California. When it comes to promoting women in STEM, Professor Mataric certainly leads by example. Mataric's research focuses on identifying new ways robotics can help people, especially those with special needs. She founded the University's Interaction Lab, serves as dean of research and earned a spot among LA Times Magazine's Visionaries. Her research has won her a great deal of recognition, and has been featured in publications like The New Yorker and Popular Science, among others. Mataric was even featured in a documentary movie called "Me & Isaac Newton."

Kate McGivney, associate professor of mathematics at Shippensburg University. Professor McGivney is living proof that the old "boys are better at math" myth is just that -- a myth. She reinforces this not only as a professor, researcher and study author, but also as a committed advocate for the advancement of women in STEM. McGivney serves as leader and principal investigator to a project designed to promote female professors in STEM disciplines, an effort that won a nearly $740,000 National Science Foundation grant in 2011. Then, beginning in 2013, McGivney participated in a mentoring network hosted by the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math-University Partnership for the Advancement of Academic Women in Pennsylvania.

Amy Moll, dean and professor of material science and engineering at Boise State University. Dr. Moll does not just teach materials science -- she created a new avenue for students to learn by co-founding the Materials Science and Engineering department in 2004. She is considered to be an expert in her field, and even serves as an adviser for PBS's NOVA series "Making Stuff." According to BSU's Women in STEM, Moll serves as a role model for, and actively supports, women in science.

Jin K. Montclare, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Montclare is a shining example of how valuable inspiring teachers can be for the cultivation of women in STEM: The professor told Steminist that many of her teachers encouraged her innate love of science and, ultimately, shaped her career. Montclare has won a number of grants, awards and fellowships from such organizations as the National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation and Pfizer, and serves as director of the Motnclare Protein Engineering and Molecular Design Lab. As co-founder of InSchool Apps, Montclare supports STEM education at the K-12 level, too.

Michelle Paustenbaugh, chemistry professor at Weber State University. Dr. Paustenbaugh serves as both a mentor and advocate for women's progress. In addition to being a professor of chemistry, Paustenbaugh serves as coordinator for her institution's interdisciplinary Women's Studies Program, which strives to study women's experiences through their "roles, contributions and scholarship." Paustenbaugh supports women within her own field, too, and recently hosted a university discussion on the importance of women in STEM.

Paving the way: The next generation of women in STEM

All of the female professors featured on this list advocate for and may undoubtedly inspire the next generation of women in STEM, but they are only a few of many. Of course, there is always room for a few more accomplished women STEM professors, and perhaps, thanks to these pioneers, many more will follow -- and soon.


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