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March 29, 2009

Changing the conversation

Here I am on Hilton Head Island at an ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineering) Leadership meeting at a session called ď Describing Mechanical Engineering: Devising a Strategy for Recruiting Underrepresented StudentsĒ. I am having a great time and not just because itís Hilton Head and Iím getting to hang with folks like Ilene Bush-Vishniac and Alice Agogino

In the room are representatives from institutions that graduate maybe 40,000 ME students a year. The room is predominantly white and male and the conversation is all about women of all colors and minority men. (In one indication of progress, the person who stood up, (ah there always is one), and said but "What about the white men?", was a white woman).

ME, as you may know has fewer women than any other engineering field and they are trying hard to change that. Iíve worked with ASME before and have been impressed with their work. (Want to see my video?). This weekend they are looking at what can be done to "change the conversation" Alice brought up the concept of "positive deviance", something that has always fascinated me. We need to look at the positive outliers and see what they are doing right; but it isn't enough to do that. As Toni Clewell, Lesley Perlman and I found when we were studying elementary schools, you need to find the positive outliers, find others operating under similar conditions and see what the differences are.

Alice reported on "Engineer 2020: Themes from Feminist Focus Group". (my techie failure is I can get the powerpoint but can't figure out the url, so folks sorry you are going to have to "just goggle it">

One of the things I liked was along with telling what was needed, she spoke about how to get there. For example:

A change in the culture of engineering (practice)
Less unrewardingly competition, more collaboration
Changes in the types of problems we decide to solve
Diversity and quality are seen as correlated
Greater value placed on family issues
Engineers genuinely pursue inclusiveness

Strategies to get there
Radical change in the power structure (as it relates to who decides what problems are important)
Decision-makers represent a more diverse group
Coalitions between public/private sector.

There is lots more but you will have to wait; I'm going for a swim.

March 26, 2009

The second Diversity Carnival is up

The Diversity in Science Carnival: Women Achievers in STEM - Past and Present is up over at Thus Spoke Zuska and it it well worth reading. I thought i was tire dof reading about role models but this convinced me I was wrong!

March 25, 2009

Want a free wind tunnel?

No really, I'm not kidding. The Aerospace and Ocean Engineering Department at Virginia Tech is replacing their Open-Jet Wind Tunnel. They say it is still a good instructional facility and they would like to give it a good home (unfortunately they only want to give it to a College or University). You move it, you can have it but you have to decide soon. If you want to find out more or express interest, e-mail mccue@vt.edu

I know most of you probably don't want a wind tunnel whether you have to pay for it or not; but think of the poor lonely wind tunnel who will be destroyed if it doesn't find a home.

March 24, 2009

It's Ada Lovelace Day

A while ago I signed a pledge to post on March 24 (Ada Lovelace Day) about a woman in technology whom I admire but only if 1,000 other people would do the same." Since 1679 other people signed up, I'm about to honor my pledge.

I have to admit, Iím getting a little tired of writing about role models . Itís not that I donít have any role models; I have plenty, especially Wonder Woman who has been my most consistent role model. Along with her complete works; and her rotating music box, I still have the pair of Wonder Woman underroos daughter Kathryn gave me years ago. While they donít fit ( I donít think I had the body of a ten year old even when I was ten) they do remind me to keep dreaming and looking for a rope that makes people tell the truth.

Now as much as I admire Wonder Woman, calling her a woman in technology is kinda a stretch. But I do have a back up. Hedy Lamar. Who is Hedy LaMar, you ask. Well she was a drop dead gorgeous film star from the 1940s and 50s who was called the most beautiful woman in films. For you old movie buffs she was the one in the sarong in those Bob Hope and Bing Crosby On the Road to.... movies.

So why am I writing about her for Ada Lovelace Day? Because she and George Antheil developed a "Secret Communication System" that used slotted paper rolls similar to player-piano rolls to synchronize the frequency changes in transmitter and receiver, and it even called for exactly eighty-eight frequencies, the number of keys on a piano.

In 1957, their concept was taken up by engineers at the Sylvania Electronic Systems Division, in Buffalo, New York. Their arrangement, using, of course, electronics rather than piano rolls, ultimately became a basic tool for secure military communications. It was installed on ships sent to blockade Cuba in 1962, about three years after the Lamarr-Antheil patent had expired. Subsequent patents in frequency changing, which are generally unrelated to torpedo control, have referred to the Lamarr-Antheil patent as the basis of the field, and the concept lies behind the principal anti-jamming device used today, for example, in the U.S. government's Milstar defense communication satellite system.

Want to learn more? Check out Hedy the inventor here

March 18, 2009

Grump grump grump

I've been very grumpy lately and what with the economy and all, it didn't seem fair to subject you to my grumpiness. Now that the market is up to almost 7500, I figure you can handle it. Why am I so grumpy? Well for starters:

While I'm delighted that the "Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Act" has been reintroduced to this Congress, I am totally depressed that the major strategy they are to do to make this happen is going to be WORKSHOPS; yes WORKSHOPS!!. One shot workshops DON"T work. We've known this for years and while I'm delighted that the Act has criteria on which workshops will be evaluated; workshops alone DON'T WORK.

But that doesn't slow us down. You know when I used to do a lot of gender equity in STEM workshops, people would ask me my rate. I would say I had two rates- a low rate if the workshop were tied into a program of change or a greed rate if there were no comprehensive plan for change. And yup, there would be a pause and then they would say "What's your greed rate?" Why would someone go through all the fuss and bother of having a long term plan if all you have to do is have a workshop?

Do you think we could get Congress to talk to some AGEP and ADVANCE people so they could learn a little about what it takes to increase diversity in STEM.

One other thing, if I see one more article about why there aren't more women in science that concludes "it's the children" I am going to run amuck. This one says "Women don't choose careers in math-intensive fields, such as computer science, physics, technology, engineering, chemistry, and higher mathematics, because they want the flexibility to raise children..."

Say what? Good to know that it's only the math intensive fields; so friends if you want a science career and a family go to the life sciences or the earth sciences or the agricultural sciences because it's just the math that makes science careers incompatible with family life, Who knew?

March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day

So I was going to get up this morning just before 2 so I could post this at 3/14 1:59 but when the alarm rang I said the heck with it. It's Pi day. There are celebrations and the House of Representatives even passed a National Pi Day Resolution. I know, I know some of you may be thinking with the economy in shambles, two wars and an educational system not doing so well- perhaps the House should be dealing with other issues, but we all can use a Pi break.

To ensure we have some ideas about what to eat today, Science blogs has been doing a Pi day bake off for the last two weeks and it is now your chance to vote. I think my favorite is Zuska's Bird Pie (no not that kind) which at our house would rapidly become squirrel pie (sorry folks I'm not going to explain you will just have to read it). On the other hand, Dr. Free-Ride has made many pies with gorgeous pictures and even pie charts.

On another artistic Pi front; CNN's Science Tech blog has a song American Pi. The chorus:

So why, why canít I calculate pi I just want to see the numbers 3.1415 And if thatís all, then letís keep it alive ĎCause my calculator seems to have died. My calculator seems to have died.

(oh cut her some slack, she wrote it in high school)

The folks over at Pi Day also have a song. It's a little strange but it is "the digits of Pi mapped to notes in a melody."

I'm off to order some pizza (yup pizza pie). Happy Pi Day

March 10, 2009

Good things happening

There aren't a whole lot of good things happening these days so it is nice to report a couple.

Part 1. First I know you know that yesterday President Obama said some good things about scientific integrity, but have you read the whole thing? Check this out:

The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions. Political officials should not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings and conclusions. If scientific and technological information is developed and used by the Federal Government, it should ordinarily be made available to the public. To the extent permitted by law, there should be transparency in the preparation, identification, and use of scientific and technological information in policymaking. The selection of scientists and technology professionals for positions in the executive branch should be based on their scientific and technological knowledge, credentials, experience, and integrity.


Part 2. The Association for Computing Machinery's 2008 A.M. Turing Award, considered the Nobel Prize of computer science. has been awarded to Barbara Liskov of MIT. It is disturbing and yet in some ways appropriate that she was the Liskov was the first U.S. woman to receive a computer science Ph.D (it was from Stanford).

Part 3. Tomorrow starts National Engineers Week Global Marathon For, By and About Women in Engineering. It begins at noon (EDT) with a panel discussion on " What does it mean to be a professional woman in the21st Century?" from North America and goes on to include folks from Brazil, Mexico India, China and South Africa. For those of you who don't want to stay up all night, some of the folks are keeping their presentations up so you can hear and view them later.

Part 4. Our snow has been melting, of course it is going to snow again tonight but still the meting is a good thing.

March 07, 2009

Words Matter and CNN agrees

Yesterday CNN had a great article on gender and language and no I'm not just saying that because they quoted FairerScience friend Kathryn Campbell-Kibler

In English there is no gender neutral, grammatically correct singular pronoun. As the article explains:

Consider the sentence "Everyone loves his mother." The word "his" may be seen as both sexist and inaccurate, but replacing it with "his or her" seems cumbersome, and "their" is grammatically incorrect.

Some people may think "So what? Everyone knows that "men at work" means "people working," but as Kathryn pointed out: "Studies have shown that gendered words do make a difference in how we perceive things. If you ask children to draw 'cavemen,' they do draw cave men."

I was happy to note that the folks in Atlanta agree. They replaced "Men Working" signs with signs that said "Workers Ahead" (guess they figured out that women work too). Yes language makes a difference.

And actually FairerScience has a downloadable tool on that (ok yes of course it is downloadable; everything we do is) written by yup Kathryn Campbell-Kibler. "Words Matter" is one of FairerScience's most popular downloads. Heck it was referenced by Excellence in Scientific Writing . Actually my favorite reference for "Words Matter" was from Nigeria (alas the link is no longer live). Each time I get a "Nigerian letter" I think, wow we helped them write that (hopefully none of you respond to these letters, no matter how well written they are).

March 04, 2009

March Scientiae Posted

I know I know I'm a little late; but after five days in San Juan at least I'm relaxed and happy as I play catch up. So if you want to learn more about some great role models, past, present and future, get yourself over to Liberal Arts Lady. Thanks Liberal Arts Lady for doing such a nice job.