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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

University of Nevada, Las Vegas encourages students to ‘do the math’

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Bethany Barnes writes, "The new recruiter for UNLV’s engineering college views her role as helping high school students see themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians."

Students study at the Dr. William R. Wells Great Hall at UNLV on on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014. (Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

If the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering enrollment numbers are any indication, more UNLV students are envisioning futures in those fields.

The college welcomed about 28 percent more freshmen this year than it did last year. About 526 freshmen chose the college last year, compared with 673 this year, according to UNLV data.

Elisa George, who spent five years teaching in the Clark County School District, started in January as UNLV’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics admission counselor. The college had a graduate student doing recruitment part time but decided someone full time was needed, said Rama Venkat, dean of the college of engineering. Two unnamed donors stepped in to fund the position for two years, after which UNLV will take over, Venkat said.

Venkat said the college wants to encourage local high school students to pick UNLV.

“A lot of our students in Clark County have put up these barriers for themselves,” George said.
“Sometimes all it takes is just showing them a path and helping them get on it.”

George loves teaching but jumped at a shot to reach a wider swath of students. In particular, she’s hoping to empower girls and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Increasing the number of people going into STEM fields, and diversifying the workforce are concerns nationally.

Women are vastly underrepresented in STEM fields, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau. The report largely attributes the gender gap to not enough women being employed in engineering or computer science: In 2011, women accounted for 13 percent of engineers and 27 percent of computer professionals.

“More people should be able to get into these fields that are stable and high-paying,” George said. “A lot of people think they are so far out of reach. You buckle down, you do the math, and it’s not so hard.”

Colbee Jones, an 18-year-old engineering freshman from Reno, doesn’t understand why more women don’t gravitate toward STEM fields. She has certainly noticed the gender disparity.

All of her friends that are engineers? They’re guys, she said.

“I think it is kind of odd because I think that all throughout public school girls and boys are both exposed to the same amount of math and science,” Jones said. “It is interesting, a lot of the girls — even though they are exposed to it — they don’t choose it as a career.”

Jones said she started considering the field after some engineering students spoke to her high school physics class. A lot of students don’t even realize engineering is an option because not too many people come to high schools and talk about the career, she said.

Choosing a path different from the ones taken by her female friends didn’t scare her, Jones said, because she likes a challenge.

“I think it is kind of cool that I’m in this field that not many other women can say they are a part of,” Jones said. “It’s special.”
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Source: Las Vegas Review-Journal   


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