House Committee on Women in STEM
The newly chartered House Select Committee on Advancing Women in STEM met this week for just the second time. The committee, chaired by Representative Erin Paré (R-Wake), was established by Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) to “study issues related to developing future generations of women leaders in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).” In late August, the committee met on the SAS Campus in Cary to hear from a panel of female business leaders in the technology and life sciences field.
During Wednesday's meeting, the committee met in the General Assembly, and received reports from senior staff within the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Community Colleges, UNC System, and North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. Jamey Falkenbury, Director of Government Affairs at DPI, presented on trends in technology and education affecting women in the workforce. Falkenbury credited a surge in computer science interest, aided in part by funding by the General Assembly for grants and positions to accelerate computer science studies, for the reason North Carolina has seen an uptick in new technology companies relocating to the state. Falkenbury shared that at least half of all school districts in the state now offer at least one advanced computer science course and identified districts where professional development is working when adequately funded. Lastly, Falkenbury credited the legislature with identifying innovative STEM programs for classrooms, like Plasma Games, BetaBox, and mobile grant development programs, for improving access to applicable computer science skills. He closed by asking the legislature to allow computer science to count as a credit in all districts, not just with AP courses, and to provide increased salary and stipends for teachers who are proficient in computer science and who teach STEM-related courses.
Both Dr. Lisa Eads, Associate Vice President of Programs at the NC Community Colleges System Office, and Dr. David English, Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of North Carolina System, provided the committee with snapshots of the status of women in STEM programs. Eads’s presentation pointed out that females are a majority in most STEM programs, including as many as 88% female enrollment numbers for health science, and 73% in finance programs at statewide community colleges. All fields of STEM saw increases in female enrollment; medical sonography programs saw the largest increase of women at a 110% growth since 2019. English’s presentation echoed many of the same findings. Female growth in STEM degrees has outpaced male growth, and since 2010, female bachelor’s degrees in STEM have increased by 66%, compared to 48% for males. Both speakers credited a climate shift in leadership within each system to invest more time and resources in STEM programs and involvement of women. Dr. Laura Bottomley, from NC State, spoke alongside Dr. English and credited the creation of new industry partnerships, and female leadership positions within departments, with encouraging women to remain in and graduate from STEM programs.