Women in STEM: CMU sees enrollment spike in math and science

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT/KKCO) -- Women are in the minority in the fields of math, engineering, and science, but recently, Colorado Mesa University has seen some encouraging trends.

In 2014, just 7 percent of the students enrolled in the engineering program were female. That number has since jumped to 12 percent.

In biosciences, women made up 57 percent of the student base in 2014; as of Friday, there are more women than men in that field of study at CMU.

“One of the most important things that you have to feel is that you belong." Dr. Aparna Palmer, a Biology professor at CMU explained, "Regardless of gender, you have the chance and you have the right to contribute to the field.”

Dr. Palmer is a biologist, studying invertebrates and recently discovered a new species living in the mosses on the National Monument.

Another faculty member, Sarah Lanci, is a mechanical engineer. “It’s harder," she said, "People will comment on, 'oh you don’t look like an engineer.' What does that have to do with anything?”

Hannah More, a student in the engineering program, hopes to combine her love of golf and her academic skills to ultimately design sports equipment professionally.

She too has seen prejudice and felt the pressure of the glass ceiling. “A lot of times it’s like, girls should be artistic, I’m not artistic. Math and science are the subjects that I loved!” More said.

She says her sisters helped pave the way for her in the field she was interested in, by studying engineering themselves.

“The chance to see a female scientist, who is a female scientist or a female engineer, that lives in your community and works on campus is extremely important,” Dr. Palmer said.

Representation is, Dr. Palmer says, the key to inspiration. She even credits media, and recent movies, with helping to spark interest.

Representing women in science in real life, Lanci loves her teaching role. “I feel like it’s my chance, to help solidify 'yes you can, yes you can!' To build the pipeline in those younger ages and tell them, 'this is normal. You can do this,'” she said.