VTC initiative aims to get more women in STEM fields - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

VTC initiative aims to get more women in STEM fields

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The gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics across the country is well documented. A new initiative at Vermont Technical College aims to change up the game.

STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math classes at the college level can often be a lonely place for women.  

"I was just out of place," said Desiree Cerretani, VTC graduate.

Cerretani started at a college engineering program in Connecticut, but with little support from peers and professors, she had a rough time. She transferred to Vermont Tech where she graduated five years ago with a mechanical engineering degree and a job already lined up.

A new Vermont Tech initiative aims to increase enrollment rates among women in historically male-dominated STEM fields.

"In many of the Vermont careers in industries that are supported by Vermont Technical College, where wages are high and jobs are available, there's a workforce shortage and yet at the same time women are under-represented in those programs and those fields," said Dan Smith, VTC president.

The idea is to increase female enrollment in five key majors from 10 percent to 25 percent over the next three years. To do that, Smith says they'll focus on recruitment, retention and career placement along with more mentoring. The initiative formalizes a partnership with Vermont Works for Women. The group runs the popular Rosie's Girls summer camps for teens that aim to build self-confidence and explore STEM careers. They also just released their latest report on the challenges Vermont women face in the workplace. 

"Women who work full time is disproportionately employed in low-wage jobs in every age group at every level of education," said Rachel Jolly, Vermont Works for Women.

In addition to traditional STEM skills, VTC professor Mary O'Leary says women can bring valued skills to the workplace.

"Women tend to be collaborative, communicative, have great management skills, all of which are needed in our industry in our classrooms and in our industries," said O'Leary.

South Burlington High School teacher Krista Huling leads a group of 24 of her women's studies students on a tour of the Vermont Tech's Williston campus. She applauds the new effort but says disconnect with girls and STEM needs to be tackled in middle school or earlier.

"You have to start encouraging girls to stay involved in math and science because you get to high school and it's not cool. It's not cool to be involved in those engineering fields, so it's changing that culture," said Huling.

For Cerretani, who now coaches soccer and mentors students, the message is clear.

"When I told my players that's what I do, they're like really? What do you do? How do you do that? How do you become that? And they were so engaged once we started talking about it. So, you have to have those conversations," said Cerretani.

Conversations that these educators hope will help lead to a cultural shift.

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