STEM Roundup: Bias, Not Babies, Hamper Women in STEM

A roundup of recent news about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and employment.

Natalie Portman as Jane Foster and Chris Hemsworth as Thor, in Marvel's "Thor: The Dark World."
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'Thor' Actress Portman Backs STEM Contest for Girls

LOS ANGELES -- Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, a Harvard University graduate who says she "loves science," has joined the movement to spur young girls' interests in STEM careers, teaming up with Marvel Studios to promote "The Ultimate Mentor Adventure." Portman, who plays astrophysicist Jane Foster in the "Thor" action movies and has a psychology degree from Harvard, said the contest -- in which girls interview female STEM professionals in their hometowns and declare why they're interested in the field -- is a "life changing opportunity" for the winners, who will meet leading women scientists and attend the premiere of the latest Thor sequel, "Thor: The Dark World." The entry forms are due Oct. 20; Girls age 14 and up who are enrolled in grades 9 through 12 can find more information at

Study: Bias, Not Babies, Cause Women to Leave STEM Careers

ITHACA, N.Y -- Gender barriers, not a desire to start a family, lie at the heart of the decision by many women to leave a career in science, a joint study by the University of Texas-Austin and Cornell University concludes. "We don't find support for the idea that women are opting out of the labor force to remain home with children" because most leave STEM jobs well before marriage or childbearing, Cornell researcher Sharon Sassler said. The study found that gender discrimination is "hindering women from entering into STEM jobs," Sassler said, "and even among those women persistent enough to enter the STEM labor force, transitions out of STEM jobs transpire relatively early on in their careers."

Texas Professors Get $1.6M to Study STEM Earning Power

AUSTIN -- The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.6 million grant to two University of Texas professors for the study of STEM education and how it affects earning potential in the workplace. The study, by sociologist Chandra Muller and economist Sandra Black, will identify which skills taught to high school and college students can help people adapt to a rapidly-changing, higher-technology workforce and keep pace with workplace conditions that require a greater amount of STEM education.

Despite Fastest-Growing pPpulation, Latinos Far Behind in STEM Fields

EDINBURG, Tex. -- An acute shortage of young Latinos studying or working in STEM-based fields shows the nation has "a long way to go" to prepare them for the future, according to Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas. Speaking at the annual Hispanic, Engineering, Science and Technology conference at the University of Texas-Pan American, Hinojosa noted few female and Hispanic college students graduate with valuable science-related degrees. "We know that barriers related to college affordability and the lack of preparation, mentoring and support preclude many Latinas from pursuing and succeeding in the STEM fields," Hinojosa said at the conference. Hispanics represent only 6 percent of the US science and engineering workforce despite making up 16.4 percent of the nation's total population, according to a National Science Foundation report. For Latina women, the difference was more pronounced: the report found they account for 8 percent of the nation's population but only 2 percent of all American science and engineering jobs.

Student Techies Compete in First-Ever HackMIT

BOSTON -- Wristbands to guide the blind. Refrigerators that detect spoiled food. A houseplant that Tweets about the weather. That's just a sample of the cutting-edge ideas competing for first place at the first Massachusetts Institute of Technology HackMIT, held on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 in Cambridge, Mass. The student-run competition drew more than 1,000 college and high school computer programmers from across North America and overseas, with the goal of creating, literally overnight, a winning computer program or electronic tool with the potential to change lives. The winning entry, called Lightboard, uses the tiny light from a cell phone and a computer program to create three-dimensional drawings. It was invented by Victor Hung, 20, and Vincent Siao, 21, high school friends from Vancouver, British Columbia. "Victor has some really crazy-cool ideas sometimes, and this is one of them," Siao, a senior studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told the Boston Globe. "I didn't think it was possible, and he just went ahead and did it."

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