Pamela Regudo’s fascination with the inner workings of technology began when she played video games as a kid. Now a senior computer science major, she is one among a growing number of women entering a STEM field.
In 2006, 6% of female college freshmen entered school with the intention of majoring in STEM and it increased to 7.9% by 2014, according to a report by the Society of Women Engineers. Between 2011 and 2016 there was a 54% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded to women in engineering and computer science.
“It makes me happy that young women nowadays have the resources to get an early start in STEM,” Regudo said. “At the same time, it does increase the competition.”
Even with this progress, women are still deciding to leave the STEM field.
SWE reported that over 32% of women switch from STEM degree programs to other majors and 30% of women with a bachelor’s degree in engineering stay in the engineering field.
Regudo has witnessed this herself because she has noticed there are more women in the lower-division computer science classes and less in the upper-division.
This may have to do with “perceived inequalities” between men and women in STEM being especially common, as a Pew Research Center study reported.
According to the report, women can encounter a more hostile work environment than their male coworkers. Discrimination and sexual harassment are also seen more frequently. Regudo said she has experienced inequalities.
“I noticed that some professors, and even students, don’t address me directly, or avoid making eye contact when they explain things in a group setting,” Regudo said. “They would only address me directly to make sure I understood the material. It felt like I was an outsider, a fly on the wall.”
While this may be the case for some women, many don’t allow it to discourage them from pursuing STEM.
“Being in that environment is not new for me,” said Luciana Barrueto, a junior mechanical engineering major. “Over the years, I have had many classes where my classmates were mainly men and I have learned to set boundaries and be assertive.”
At Long Beach State’s college of engineering, women make up 20%, an increase of 15% over the past 10 years according to dean Forouzan Golshani.
In an attempt to attract more women to the engineering program, the college has an ongoing campaign such as the 100+ Women Strong campaign.
The goal of this campaign is to “provide resources that will attract, nurture, retain, support and promote women in engineering and computing through mentoring, personal development, networking, and career assistance,” as stated on their website.
By running the 100+ Women Strong campaign, the college hopes to increase the number of women in engineering to 25% by 2025.
Some professors are already seeing a difference not just in the number of female students, but female faculty too.
“The numbers are increasing,” said Roni Allen, lecturer for the computer engineering and computer science department. “I share my office with three other women who are part-time, two are finishing up their Ph.Ds and the other works full-time in a project management position. I am amazed to see so many talented students and so much growth.”
Despite some still feeling the need to prove themselves, there are women who are sticking with STEM because it’s worth it to them.
“My favorite part is that sense of accomplishment or rewarding feeling after figuring out a problem or overcoming a challenge…it’s my biggest motivation,” Regudo said.
While there may be women who are afraid or discouraged to try and pursue a degree in STEM, Regudo says to just give it a try.
“It may be a harder course than most, but definitely worth the struggle for a future filled with opportunities,” she said.