Saint Mary's Science Programs Featured on TV

3/4/11 (WNIT-TV)—The local PBS station, WNIT-TV, produced a half-hour program on how educating women in science-related fields could help the country become more competitive on the world stage. The talk show, Economic Outlook, featured an all-Saint Mary's College panel, including two science faculty members, a dual degree (chemistry/engineering) alumna, and a biology major.

  • Nancy Nekvasil, Chair and Professor, Department of Biology, and Pre-Health Professions Advisor for the College
  • Toni Barstis, Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Director of the Dual Degree Engineering Program
  • Erin Heck ’08, Dual Degree Engineering Program alumna; Operations Management Leadership Program (OMLP) Associate at GE Aviation
  • Tara Hill ’11, Biology Major (who plans to enroll in an public health accelerated master's degree program)

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Summary of the show: While many people presume that the U.S. will always be a world leader in science and technology, the country is losing its competiveness at an alarming rate. For example, according to data collected by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, the U.S. ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.

Women may be part of the solution. They now earn 60% of the degrees awarded in biological and agricultural sciences, a majority of the chemistry degrees and just under half of the degrees in math. Yet stereotypes and bias are cited as reasons more women don’t enter STEM majors and careers. The show explores how to encourage more young women to enter these fields, and how Saint Mary's College's single-gender environment and small classes provide an encouraging atmosphere for a challenging curriculum.

“I believe an all-women’s academic environment allows students to take risks with less fear, to try out their ideas, to grow into their own skin,” Nekvasil says. “Without the distractions in the classroom, it allows for free flowing conversation and a sense of more equal footing.  Once women find their voice, they can hold their own in any setting. It is a matter of them growing in confidence, of being validated for what they have to offer, and of having opportunity to take leadership positions.”