Under Secretary of Defense Joins Women’s College Presidents in Announcing Strategic Partnership to Address Federal Workforce Needs
November 03, Washington, D.C. | Presidents representing the Women’s College Coalition (WCC) met with Under Secretary of Defense for Engineering and Research, Heidi Shyu at the Pentagon to announce a strategic partnership to recruit women’s college STEM students for the Department’s SMART Scholarship program. The October 26, 2023 meeting launched the first ever Department of Defense initiative with the WCC, who represents 30 women’s colleges in the U.S.
The SMART Scholarship is part of the Department of Defense’s Scholarship for Service program awarding multi-year tuition, stipend, internship, mentorship and early career guarantee placement to selected students in undergraduate and post-graduate STEM fields.
The vast STEM gender gap is reflected in education and workforce data. Women earn 59% of undergraduate degrees compared to 41% of men, but only 10% of women’s degrees are in a STEM field according to the National Center of Education Statistics. This pattern follows women into the workplace, where they represent about 47% of the workforce, but only 27% of STEM jobs per U.S. Census Bureau data. Among women of color in STEM, fewer than one in 20 are scientists and engineers.
Women’s colleges have a deep legacy of educating the under-served. Today, forty percent of women’s college students are Pell grant recipients and 93% receive financial aid. One third of women’s colleges and universities are federally-designated Minority Serving Institutions, some with multiple designations, and fifty percent of students identify as Black, Indigenous, People of Color.
Women’s colleges are a bastion for well qualified STEM leaders. In the 2020 Collectif study by Kathryn Enke, the percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields conferred to American women of color was significantly higher at women’s colleges than co-ed liberal arts colleges: 34.2% vs. 19.8%.
“Women’s colleges are delivering across all STEM fields to provide excellent opportunities, role models, and effective teaching methods. Coupling hands-on, dynamic learning experiences with career exploration, our institutions are delivering cutting-edge leaders in the STEM fields,” said Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, Board Chair of the WCC and President of Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. “Our partnership with the Department of Defense will allow us to drive diversity and provide our armed services and their contractors with the rich perspectives of qualified STEM women leaders.”
The multi-layered SMART Scholarship Women’s Colleges & Universities outreach includes direct partnership with our nation’s 30 women’s colleges through multiple on-campus events, virtual webinars, and outreach through college career services and news channels. This effort creates a critical link in the pipeline of qualified women’s college STEM students and their first careers in the field. It also demonstrates a strong commitment to Department of Defense Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Strategic Plan which is vital to leveraging the unique strengths of our nation’s people to meet current and future global security challenges.
“Partnering with the Women’s College Coalition helps deliver access and distinct perspective in the preparation and implementation of our national defense, all the while building the next generation of American global leadership,” said Under Secretary of Defense Heidi Shyu. “Together, working as one team, we will unlock the full potential of readiness and security for our nation’s future.”