Kathryn Borman is a wife, mother and educator. After raising two sons – one a fellow educator at UW-Madison – she understands the importance of education in everyone’s life. As a woman, she is passionate that women “have access to a rich, meaningful life in all respects.”She knows that further education for women and minorities will expedite this.
Borman is an anthropology professor, but applies her knowledge much further than the classroom. She is affiliated with the Alliance for Applied Research in Education and Anthropology (AAREA) as their research team leader. This alliance has taken five different education projects under its belt, but the most prevalent is the Effects of College Degree Program Culture on Female and Minority Students’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Participation (also known as STEM).
“Our work is really in the rubric of contemporary, applied anthropology,” Borman said.
“We’re specifically looking at education, but it’s more than that. We’re interested in the societal conditions that surround the formal educational experience.”
The STEM project strives to understand why there are less science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees among women and minorities. According to the National Science Foundation, out of the 15,119 engineering degrees earned in 2004, only 2,116 of them were earned by women. In that same year, only 2,902 of those degrees were received by under-represented minorities (American Indian/Alaskan Natives, Blacks (non-Hispanic) and Hispanics). “We are very interested in why it is that there aren’t more women participating in science, technology and mathematics at the undergraduate level,” Borman said.
The STEM project is only being practiced in Florida, but Borman said the state is a good representative sample.
“Florida is a fairly decent representation of the entire country,” Borman said. “Yes, we’re large and yes, we’re diverse, but there really is a sense of overlap with the nation as a whole.”
The objective of STEM is focused on culture and climate – it looks at the surroundings of women and minorities and assesses how they are an influence. However, anthropology is not the only school of thought in use. Sociologists, analysts, science educators, graduate students and industrial-organizational psychologists all play an important part in the research.
As the principal investigator of this project, Borman works first-hand with people and data on many different levels. She attends meetings all around the country with other schools and in Washington D.C. with the National Science Foundation (NSF).
She is constantly on the lookout for grant money opportunities and is continually traveling into the field, gathering and analyzing data alongside the graduate students involved in the program.
“We have a desperate need for these trained scientists and engineers,” Borman said. “It’s an oppressing and critical need … We are just not attracting and attaining the best and the brightest.”
In 2004, according to the Washington Post, 600,000 engineers were produced in China, 350,000 in India and only 70,000 in the United States.
Borman hopes that the STEM program results will help explain why there is a mass exit in science, technology, engineering and math programs at the undergraduate level in women and minorities particularly.
“Half of the students in (general chemistry) drop out or get a D or an F,” Borman said. “That’s something to be concerned about. (Courses like these) are referred to as filter courses or a gateway course; it has that function. They do have that function but I don’t think anybody really likes it.”
However, the research has yet to determine the clear-cut problem or how to solve it.
“Research is often referred to as the black box of schooling,” Borman said. “After ripping apart that black box and peering into the individual classrooms of schools K through 20 … we’re really focused on student experience, student achievement, student outcomes and so on.”
The benefits enjoyed by USF are university-wide on multiple levels. The enormous amount of federal grants that have been received by the AAREA are one of the many factors that helped establish USF as a fast-growing research institution. The AAREA also provides “a fabulous arena for grad students … It’s why graduate students go to graduate school, to get this experience of going out into the field, gather the data and conduct their analyses,” Borman said.
Borman said she’s hopeful for the future of females in science.
“I would love for this information one day to be able to train future teachers,” she said. “It’s really about enhancing the quality of that (educational) experience.”