Sexism is driving Wisconsin women away from STEM majors

Credit: Miss America, Grace Stanke

By Christina Lorey

December 12, 2023

Despite making up more than half of the total University of Wisconsin student body, only a quarter of current College of Engineering students are female and just 15% are people of color.

The result? Inherent sexism, according to one female nuclear engineering and physics student, who asked to remain anonymous in a conversation with The Badger Herald.

“People talk to you differently and listen to what you have to say very differently from how they listen to another man,” she told the student-run paper.

Like Miss America 2023 Grace Stanke, this student is one of just 8 women currently majoring in nuclear engineering at the UW-Madison. Other specialties, like civil and environmental engineering, have a better male-to-female ratio of 60 to 40.

Still, a study by the American Society for Engineering Education found that mental wellness among engineers is particularly low due to the rigor of work, high expectations, and gender inequality.

What Can Be Done?

University of Wisconsin Department of Engineering professor Paul Wilson is working with students to address their concerns as well as introducing a new first-year course for all incoming nuclear engineering students, which is intended to build community from the start.

“We think that will create a healthier community for all people, particularly students who are typically underrepresented in engineering,” Wilson told The Badger Herald.

The UW-Madison is also working to hire more female professors overall, but especially in the College of Engineering.

Putting a face to female STEM students is also important. After Stanke made history last December as the first nuclear engineering major and third Wisconsin native crowned Miss America, she spent the year traveling the country, touring nuclear power sites, and encouraging young girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Stanke has also traveled to DC, talking to lawmakers about the benefits of nuclear energy and a diversified power grid.

Now, as her “reign” ends, Stanke is ready to return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to finish her degree. She says she’s excited to become an engineer like her dad, which has always been a dream of hers, especially after learning about the role nuclear energy plays in the medical field, including the treatments used to cure her dad’s cancer.

MORE: Our One-on-One Interview with Grace Stanke

Sexism is driving Wisconsin women away from STEM majors

Author

  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

CATEGORIES: COMMUNITY | EDUCATION

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