White House & Women’s College Coalition Mark Historic NASA Federal Investment in STEM Pathways for Female Students
November 03, Washington, D.C. | Last week, presidents of the Women’s College Coalition (WCC) met with the White House Office of Public Engagement, White House Gender Policy Council, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Space Council and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to mark the historic start of the first federal partnership with women’s colleges and universities.
Since the beginning of the Biden-Harris Administration, seven women’s colleges and universities have received grant funding totaling over $5 million to research and develop solutions to address the gender gap for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The funding from NASA will be distributed over three years. This is the first-ever STEM focused program undertaken by NASA with America’s women’s colleges.
The funding opportunity was born out of White House Executive Order 14035 “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce.” According to the National Center of Education Statistics women earn 59% of undergraduate degrees compared to 41% of men, but only 10% of women’s degrees are in a STEM field. This pattern follows women into the workplace, where they represent about 47% of the workforce, but only 27% of STEM jobs according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“This initiative is a part of the President’s vision, one in which we empower women and girls, unlock opportunity, and advance gender equity and equality. Women’s colleges are a critical asset in fostering STEM careers for women,” said Jennifer Klein, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Gender Policy Council. Women’s colleges are a bastion for well-qualified STEM leaders. The 2020 Collectif study revealed 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 counterparts: 34.2% versus 19.8%.
“This is a very exciting first; we’re making strides to close the pervasive gender gap in STEM, and Women’s Colleges and Universities are well-positioned to help drive that positive change,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, a graduate of Wellesley College. “It’s more important than ever we have brilliant, enthusiastic women entering STEM careers and ready to take on the challenges ahead.”
NASA’s Minority University Research & Education Project for Women’s Colleges and Universities grant provides outreach and support services to help women STEM students, particularly with developing professional skills and gaining access to NASA STEM mentors as the proposals aim to develop intersectional programs and services to address barriers to women’s success in STEM undergraduate and graduate degree programs. These individual projects are meant to become a best practice for all women’s colleges.
“We appreciate this important investment by NASA to improve the outcomes for women in STEM careers and degree programs. Women's colleges and universities are critical to the promotion and success of women in STEM and are uniquely well situated to utilize their expertise to develop solutions to the persistent gender gap in these fields. This first ever collaboration is a wonderful opportunity for all women interested in STEM – after all, this is NASA, which leads our nation’s space exploration. I am thrilled about this partnership!” said Dr. Ann McElaney-Johnson, Board Chair of the Women’s College Coalition (WCC) and President of Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles. The WCC represents 30 women’s colleges and universities in the nation, including the seven institutions selected by NASA.
The women’s colleges selected for funding include:
- Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA
- Alverno College in Milwaukee, WI
- Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA
- College of Saint Mary in Omaha, NE
- Salem Academy and College in Winston-Salem, NC
- Simmons University in Boston, MA
- Smith College in Northampton, MA
“The commitment from NASA and the federal government is meaningful support for the next generation of American women in STEM. The MUREP for Women’s Colleges and Universities represents a joint effort between higher education, government, and the workforce to create a pipeline for women in STEM that ultimately begins to tackle the significant STEM gender gap that our nation faces,” said Christy Brown, J.D., President of Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of the seven recipients, Alverno College is utilizing the NASA funding to examine an intersectional approach to boosting recruitment and retention of women in STEM undergraduate education. Alverno College is the first university in Wisconsin to be designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education.