USD expands STEM departments with eight new female professors


STEM front

The National Science Foundation, NSF, granted University of San Diego $600,000 over the next five years to hire more female STEM professors. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, four disciplines that are growing in both popularity and global demand.

The grant is a part of the NSF’s ADVANCE initiative, which works toward increasing the representation of women pursuing science and engineering careers. Previously USD has already developed its own program for the Advancement of Female Faculty: Institutional climate, Recruitment and Mentoring, also known as AFFIRM.

The NSF grant helped USD hire eight new female professors from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to teach STEM-related classes beginning in the fall 2014 semester. USD hopes that these new staff members will help inspire young female students of all backgrounds to enter STEM fields.

During the hiring process, USD originally intended to hire only two new staff members for this year. However, the applicants were so well qualified for multiple positions that the university instead hired eight new staff members. Six of the women were hired into the College of Arts and Sciences and two were hired into the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

Senior Alex Sidhom, a member of the USD Medical Brigades club, was excited to hear about the increase of female staff and students in STEM departments.

“It just tells me that maybe there is a growing number of women that are interested in sciences or health professions, which I think is pretty cool,” Sidhom said.

In 2013, the NSF published a report stating that less than 25 percent of full-time professors in STEM fields are women and less than 6 percent are women of color.

The lack of full-time female professors in STEM fields can make it more challenging for female students to connect with their professors. Half of the new professors hired will work in cross-disciplinary studies, increasing their chances to connect with more female undergrads in the STEM majors.

One of the newly hired USD professors, Dr. Imane Khalil received her degree in Mechanical Engineering at UCSD in 1994, and was one of only three women to graduate in her major out of about 50 students.

Khalil was surprised to see that her thermofluids class at USD was comprised of many female students. “I have six girls out of 24 students in my classes and I was very surprised,” Kahlil said. “I never treat female students different than males, and I never feel anyone did that for me.”

Another new professor hired into the engineering department, Dr. Odesma Dalrymple, had a very different experience. Originally from Trinidad, Dalrymple did not realize there was a gender gap in the field until she began attending college in the United States.

“Many girls pursued STEM subjects, and I was not aware that there was any disparity between men and women in terms of access and presence in the STEM profession,” Dalrymple said. “This disparity only became evident to me when I moved to the US.”

Some female students say that the lack of female teachers in STEM majors has had a negative effect on their education. USD sophomore Kirsten Gansert, who started as a biology major but later switched into psychology, is frustrated with the low ratio of female to male professors in the science department at USD.

“I definitely feel like there are more male teachers in the sciences, which can be frustrating because I feel like a lot of girls do get discouraged without female role models,” Gansert said. “I switched to psychology because I found it more interesting, but I also did feel discouraged in a lot of the natural sciences and more confident in the social sciences.”

However, Dalrymple has high hopes for women who do choose to pursue STEM careers.

“My hope is that in the US more women are exposed to correct and positive information about the need and benefits to be gained both personally and professionally by pursuing careers in the STEM fields.” Dalrymple said. “Outside of the medical field, which may not experience the same gender disparity as other STEM fields, there is a great need for the unique perspectives that women bring, especially in engineering, which is a field that endeavors to improve our quality of life.”

The eight new female professors hired by the university have all done exceptional work in their respective fields, and are expected to contribute greatly to the STEM departments at USD.