Seattle Times “correction” spotlights importance of increasing diversity in STEM education, STEM careers

The Seattle Times today has a belated correction that also serves as a useful vehicle to consider how best to expand opportunity in engineering and other STEM fields. Here’s the story

It’s a bit late — 65 years late — but we’re happy to clarify a story this paper ran on Sunday, June 10, 1951.

For all those years the story has gnawed at Luella Armstrong, now 86.

It concerned that year’s graduation coverage at the University of Washington…

The headline was, “One girl in air engineers graduates with 174 men.”

The article also asked if  “Miss Armstrong trouble keeping requests for dates in hand.” As reporter Erik Lacitis points out,

That same story today would have exploded with the internet commentarial.

The story is worth your time: It’s charming, informative, and insightful as to the career challenges faced by a remarkable pioneer in an earlier time. What strikes us, though, is that there’s still a great deal more to be done to expand opportunity, an issue also explored by Lacitis.

Armstrong was among the trailblazers for today’s young women — who still are in the minority in most science fields, and in many cases still fighting for acceptance.

According to the National Science Foundation, in 1975, women earned only 2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering.

Four decades later, in 2014, that had improved to 20 percent.

We wrote last month of disparities in STEM education, citing a U.S. News report, among other sources.

U.S. News reports that where we might have expected progress in closing demographic gaps, problems persist.

Gaps between men and women, and between whites and minorities, also remained entrenched. As the number of white students who earned STEM degrees grew 15 percent in the last five years, the number of black students fell by roughly the same margin, the index found.

Women’s interest in STEM also decreased slightly since last year.

Industry leaders in our state have supported programs designed to bring more women into the field. For example, this from Washington STEM and the Women’s Funding Alliance. 

In our STEM economy, there is an enormous opportunity for women to take hold of the wide swath of unfilled STEM careers and create a foundation of leadership for decades to come. The first step toward this future is to raise STEM education awareness among women.

In the fall of 2016 and winter of 2016 Washington STEM and the Women’s Funding Alliance held our Women in STEM Town Hall Series.

In our foundation report, we wrote, 

With 80 percent of chronically unfilled jobs tied to a shortage of qualified candidates with STEM skills, the opportunity for Washington students is clear. For individual students to take advantage of this opportunity, the state must increase postsecondary capacity in computer science, engineering, and health care programs.

And, just as important as increasing postsecondary access, K-12 students must be encouraged to take an interest in STEM fields, have access to high-quality instruction in these subjects at every level, and leave high school with a strong foundation in math and science.

We applaud Luella Armstrong and the teachers, mentors and employers she acknowledges contributed to her success.