Woman at computer, thinking about female and male math and science students on either end of a balance scale.

December 05, 2014


Each December 6th, along with many other science blogs, we at FairerScience remember the 14 women engineering students at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec who were killed because they were women in engineering. It's been 25 years and it is still important to remember.

A couple of years ago Alice Pawley posted this tribute

"On December 6, 1989, an armed gunman named Marc Lepine entered an engineering classroom at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec. He demanded all 48 men in the class leave the room, lined up all 9 women against a wall, and, shouting "You are all a bunch of [expletive] feminists!", proceeded to shoot them. He went into the hall and shot 18 more people, mostly at random. He finally shot himself.

He had killed 14 women all together, and injured 9 more women and 4 men.

The women who died could have been anyone. They could have been your friends, your mothers, your sisters, your lovers, your daughters, your neighbors, your students, your teachers, maybe even you.

They were killed because they were women."

Remember those who died in the Montreal Massacre:

Genevieve Bergeron, 21, was a 2nd year scholarship student in civil engineering.
Helene Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her master's degree.
Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering.
Barbara Daigneault, 22, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and held a teaching assistantship.
Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering.
Maud Haviernick, 29, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials, and a graduate in environmental design.
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31, was a 2nd year engineering student specializing in engineering materials.
Maryse Laganiere, 25, worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique.
Maryse Leclair, 23, was a 4th year student in engineering materials.
Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a 4th year student in mechanical engineering.
Sonia Pelletier, 28, was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering. She was awarded a degree posthumously.
Michele Richard, 21, was a 2nd year student in engineering materials.
Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student.
Annie Turcotte, 21, was a first year student in engineering materials.

Please honor the white ribbon as a symbol of the fight against violence against women.

This year Alice has posted an event on Facebook. "We remember the Montreal Massacre". I joined it and that you will as well.

You should know that December 7, 1989 my then 12 year old daughter went to her junior high school with the names of those 14 women with an "in memoriam" pinned to her shirt. I cried when I saw what she was doing-- both for the women and for her courage. Each year I think of my daughter and of those women and so hope that we have the courage to stop the violence against women..

November 28, 2014

Roadmap To Inclusion

So you engineers and engineering educators, want to be part of a national dialogue about the role of culture in building inclusive and diverse engineering education and work communities? Well here is your chance. Consider submitting a proposal to the 2015 WEPAN Change Leader Forum. The meting is in Denver in June and the deadline for proposals is December 12th. Check it out here and think about submitting something.

October 26, 2014

Yes really I'm reposting a FB post on the blog --guess that tells you how important it is

ummm I may have gotten a little grumpy here but...

Sorry FB friend-

I strongly disagree with you- Dr. Craig Spencer was self monitoring and when he had a fever he called MSF and there was a procedure in place which was implemented.

Re Kaci Hickox- I'm glad she is suing. I think we need to have a national discussion about this and the balance of personal rights and public health and the role of due process and appeal here. The NJ Gov keeps saying that she is sick and he hopes she gets well but that is not what the doctors are saying- they are saying she shows no symptoms. Not being able to speak with her lawyer when she is being kept against her will, that is not acceptable.

And don't even get me started about unintended outcomes-- Without even trying hard I came up with 6 ways to avoid this quarantine which actually would put more people at risk. I am very impressed that my Gov (Deval you rock) is making his decisions on this based on the advice of public health experts not pollsters. The idea that we are discouraging people from going to West Africa to stop the spread of Ebola is, well not smart.

I'm not saying this from the safety of my home. I fly a lot, mostly out of Boston and yes I have started wiping down the buttons, handrests etc on the plane and offer wipes to my seat mates because what the heck. But I've also been reading about what it takes to get Ebola (as you know I love PUBMED and I'm continuing to live my life and being very thankful to all those folks who have the courage and compassion to fight Ebola.

October 14, 2014

It's Ada Lovelace Day

As many of you know, today is Ada Lovelace Day where science bloggers are encouraged to "write a blog post about your STEM heroine". I had a lot of thoughts about who to write about, but then I read an NPR story, The Forgotten Female Programmers Who Created Modern Tech and realized that there are many people who don't know who Ada Lovelace is. So I'm writing about her. Ada Lovelace well actually her full name is Ada Bryan King, Countess of Lovelace, was an Analyst, Metaphysician, and Founder of Scientific Computing and is credited as being the world's first computer programmer. .

As wikipedia says, "As a young adult, her mathematical talents led her to an ongoing working relationship and friendship with fellow British mathematician Charles Babbage, and in particular Babbage's work on the Analytical Engine. Between 1842 and 1843, she translated an article by Italian military engineer Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with an elaborate set of notes of her own, simply called Notes. These notes contain what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. Lovelace's notes are important in the early history of computers. She also developed a vision on the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on those capabilities.[8] Her mind-set of "poetical science" led her to ask basic questions about the Analytical Engine (as shown in her notes) examining how individuals and society relate to technology as a collaborative tool."

So as you work on your computer today, give a shout out to Ada

September 19, 2014

Really has it been 10 years?

Yes it has. Ten years ago Eric Jolly, Lesley Perlman and I decided that we had to figure out why so many efforts to increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) diversity led to so little success. The end result of our work was the ECC Trilogy, which is composed of:

Engagement: Having an orientation to the sciences and/or quantitative disciplines that includes such qualities as awareness, interest and motivation.

Capacity: Possessing the acquired knowledge and skills needed to advance to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines.

Continuity: Institutional and programmatic opportunities, material resources and guidance that support advancement to increasingly rigorous content in the sciences and quantitative disciplines.

Our biggest point was that each of the factors was necessary, but not sufficient, that all three factors must be present for student success. When we started to apply the Trilogy to diversity “issues” we found that yup we were right. For example:

Middle class girls have pretty much the same STEM Capacity and Continuity as do middle class boys (actually sometimes their capacity is higher) but the percentage of women entering engineering has been stalled for the last 20 years. No Engagement, no continuation.

In mathematics African-American fourth and eighth grade students are more apt than white students to agree with the statement “I like mathematics” (Engagement), but since they disproportionately attend schools with lower quality teachers (i.e., teachers with less experience, fewer certifications and even lower attendance at their teaching jobs) and less background in mathematics and science they have little Continuity. Little Continuity means little opportunity to develop Capacity and no continuation.

I could go on and on. Anyway we hoped that the ECC Trilogy might have a modest impact but we were wrong- it took off. The tenth anniversary seemed good time for us to reflect on the roles the ECC Trilogy has been playing in education and what its future might be. So take a look at our reflections and see what you think.

September 04, 2014

A Perfect Storm: Poor Education, Poor Communities and Poor Policing

Sorry folks, this isn’t one of my humorous and informative posts. Well, hopefully, it’s informative. I’ve been thinking about Michael Brown and Ferguson and of all the young Black men who have been killed and about the police officers who have died and the other police officers who have to live with wondering if their decision to shoot and kill was the right one. At the same time I’ve been thinking about contributing factors.

Did you know:

In policing:
• reporting instances of police use of deadly force is voluntary? (BTW in 2012, there were 410 deaths through police use of deadly force voluntarily reported compared to 1 for the United Kingdom.)
• there are no national nor state requirements for police training in the use of deadly force?. Individual departments decide what training officers get or don’t get.
• based on laboratory research, false positives, that is incidents when an officer incorrectly perceives that a suspect has a gun and, hence, responds with deadly force only to find that no gun exists, averages 9%?

In education:
• 17% of eighth-grade Black students in the U.S. are considered "proficient" in reading compared to 46% of white students. For Black 8th grade boys it’s 10%.
• Black and Hispanic students are more likely to receive harsher punishment for the same offenses, especially for minor misbehaviors?
• Black students between the ages of 6 and 21 are 2.86 times more likely to receive special education services for mental retardation, and 2.28 times more likely to receive services for emotional disturbance than same-age students of all other racial/ethnic groups combined?

In wealth and employment:
• a typical Black household has accumulated less than one-tenth of the wealth of a typical white one? And it's only getting worse.
• the poverty rate for Blacks is 27% vs 10% for whites?
• the unemployment rate for Blacks is 11.4% vs 5.3 for whites?

It’s a perfect storm of poorly educated kids in poor communities with few jobs where police may or may not have been trained. So what can we do? Here are some ideas.

In policing:
• Require standardized reports of incidents of officer use of deadly force at state and federal levels.
• With the assistance of groups like the Force Science Institute and the Center for Policing Equity, develop a set of minimum standards for training in the use of deadly force.
• Require all police officers take training in the use of deadly force that meets minimum standards.
• Provide public and private resources to pay for such training.

In education:
• Develop student discipline policies that are consistently applied and do not disproportionately impact students of color, low-income students, or those students with disabilities and rely more heavily on in-school discipline rather than suspension
• View special education as transitional for most students and mainstream special education students whenever possible to increase the ease of transition out of special education.
• Have teachers who feel they are responsible for the learning of their students and have the ability to inspire and motivate diverse students.

In wealth and employment:
• Listen to Warren Buffet about such things as tax rates and minimum wages.

Continue reading "A Perfect Storm: Poor Education, Poor Communities and Poor Policing" »

March 15, 2014

STEM Diversity and 'The Causal Loop'

FairerScience friend Andrew Campbell directs the Initiative to Maximize student Development (IMSD) at Brown University. In their current issue of their newsletter, The View, Andrew wrote:

The greatest threat to STEM workforce expansion through diversity may be our failure to recognize that employing decades old approaches to training can only yield the same outcomes. This is the case of a causal loop.

Causal loops are ‘Predestination paradoxes’* exemplified by the case of an individual who travels back in time to discover the source of a famous fire. While at the site where the fire started, the traveler accidentally knocks over a lamp that causes the fire that inspired him, many years later, to travel back in time. Current efforts to achieve STEM-field trainee and workforce diversity resemble a predestination paradox in that the approaches taken may in fact be contributing to the poor outcomes. As scientists we pride ourselves on ensuring reproducibility by eliminating variables, outliers, and unknowns. While this works well in the test tube and at the bench, it does not work as well in broadening the scientific workforce. In fact, applying such criteria to training is inconsistent with achieving diversity, and it serves only to replicate the past.

Unlike predestination paradoxes, training practices can be changed. Doing so requires ‘outside of the box’ thinking and incorporating methods that move away from the prescriptive and top-down approaches to program design and practice. Many of the current training program practices are thought experiments, which presuppose that the STEM trainers’ decades old experiences still have merit in training today’s trainees. As scientists we use the experimental tools of 2014. The same should be done to train the next generation of scientists–minimizing the training modalities used 25 years ago. Today’s trainees process information and interface with the world differently than we did a quarter of a century ago.

As FairerScience’s Tom Kibler often points out, “yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems”. We need to look at the strengths, weaknesses and needs of today’s students, in all their diversity. Only then can we well serve students.


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