Two Bradley University professors are working to interest more women in a career in science. According to data from the National Science Foundation, women accounted for almost three-quarters of those enrolled in graduate psychology courses in 2001, but only 30 percent in computer science and 20 percent in engineering grad-school courses.

Two Bradley University professors are working to interest more women in a career in science.


Biology professor Michell Edgcomb and Michelle Fry, interim chairwoman of the chemistry and biochemistry departments, said the male-female imbalance depends on the field.


"Physics, engineering and computer science remain male-dominated but in biology and psychology, women tend to be in the majority," said Fry.


According to data from the National Science Foundation, women accounted for almost three-quarters of those enrolled in graduate psychology courses in 2001, but only 30 percent in computer science and 20 percent in engineering grad-school courses.


"It's not just women but minorities that need more opportunities. The key is mentoring," said Fry. That means exposing students to the real-life women scientists, she said.


Another key is reaching women when they're young, said Edgcomb. "Studies show that it's in middle school when many kids decide on a career," she said.


To help generate more interest in science among women, Edgcomb and Fry worked with fourth-grade classes at Peoria's Tyng and Harrison Schools earlier this year. "It was a semester-long program that allowed us to have kids visit (area) labs to see how work was done," she said, adding that female professionals also visited classrooms to talk about their work.


When given the chance, students responded well to the introduction to science. "At Northmoor Edison, we had 100 students show up for a science program, extracting DNA from strawberries," she said.


Another outreach program is planned for the spring. "We'll be pairing area grade schoolers with Bradley undergraduate students," said Edgcomb.


Fry said that reaching today's students requires a scientific approach. "We have to go to their level and use the technology of the day such as Web sites. If that means a Facebook page, that's what we need. We need to show that technology can be useful for something other than entertainment purposes," she said.


Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com.