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Breaking the Gender Barrier: Women in STEM at CSULB

STEM has historically been a male-dominated field. Despite more women pursuing higher education and professional jobs (careers that require a specific amount of advanced training) in the last several decades, STEM remains an industry marked by a jarring gender disparity.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, men compose 52% of the workforce but 73% of STEM workers. Women only account for 27% of the current STEM workforce and has grown from 8% in 1970. This growth can be largely attributed to the groundbreaking contributions of female figures in STEM.

Nettie Stevens, a graduate of Stanford University, discovered sex chromosomes in 1905. Katherine Johnson was one of the first Black women to work as a scientist at NASA and became a central contributor to space exploration. Antonia Novello was the first Hispanic woman to hold the position of U.S. Surgeon General in 1990 and Mae C. Jemison became the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992.

The achievements of such female historical figures, as well as teachers and community leaders, is inspiring more women to pursue an education and career in STEM including some at Long Beach State.

CSULB’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics reported in March 2022, that 60% of incoming freshmen were women seeking STEM degrees.

“As a female student, there haven’t been that many obstacles for me to overcome and I largely account that to the female STEM teachers I had in high school,” Karen Guevara said.

As a first-year molecular biology student, Guevara’s biology teacher at Carson High School helped give her and other female students an equal opportunity to succeed in the STEM field.

“Ms. Bird used all the resources she had and introduced me to the EXP Women in STEM career day,” Guevara said. “That event introduced me to CSULB and I decided to attend university as a biology major.”

While some women feel they haven’t faced significant challenges in STEM, Angelica Arellano, a first-year student studying general biology, believes otherwise.

“As a female STEM student, the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome were the competitiveness in the field as well as the resources available to help and guide us to success,” Arellano said. “I feel like there isn’t anything telling me what to do next.”

Despite wrestling with feelings of uncertainty, Arellano is persevering through the challenge of being a woman in a STEM major.

Rita Reyad is a sophomore studying civil engineering with the goal of becoming a structural engineer. Reyad’s journey to entering the College of Engineering at CSULB was a challenging one that required her to overcome many obstacles, including her own mental and emotional barriers.

Because of her journey, Reyad sees being a woman in engineering as more than simply a pathway to a decent or well-paying job.

“I get to be a part of one of the essential foundations of life that entail theory and numbers that translate to life,” Reyad said.

As students at CSULB can attest, the pathway for women in STEM can be complicated. Yet, the work of women in STEM throughout history has allowed Reyard and others at CSULB to fight for a future where women are at the forefront of STEM, not on the margins.

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