Gender a ‘major’ factor at USF

Gender is a prime indicator of what majors students will choose at USF, and the trend is in keeping with other Southwest Florida universities.

After analyzing enrollment data from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) and Edison College, Fort Myers News-Press writer Dave Breitenstein reported that men dominate math and hard science programs, such as engineering and computer science, while women dominate health care and education programs, such as nursing, teaching and social work.

“Men hunt. Women gather. That traditional gender split might be ancient history, but there still is a voluntary division of labor as men and women gravitate toward certain fields,” Breitenstein wrote.

USF students fall into the same patterns of male/female major distribution as these Southwest Florida institutions. According to InfoMart, the University database, as of the drop/add period for the spring 2008 semester the head count of all intended and declared majors in the programs mentioned by Breitenstein revealed a disproportionate distribution of males and females.

At the undergraduate level, females make up 82 and 89 percent of students in the Colleges of Education and Nursing, respectively. In the School of Social Work, 92 percent of students are female. Conversely, 84 percent of undergraduates in the College of Engineering are male.

The gap narrows in the Department of Mathematics, in which 59 percent of students are male, and the College of Medicine, whose student population is 57 percent female.

For graduate students, the disparity in gender distribution in the same programs is generally wider. Females constitute 88 percent of students in the School of Social Work, 90 percent in the College of Nursing and 64 percent in the College of Medicine. The male predominance in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics increases to 68 percent. The College of Public Health is composed solely of graduate students, 71 percent of whom are female.

While the gender gap for graduate students increases in those areas, the female population in the College of Education dropped to 76 percent, and the male population in the College of Engineering dropped to 73 percent.

Breitenstein attributed the prevalence of males and females in certain majors to the disproportionate gender ratios in those professional fields.

“In health care, 19 of 20 registered nurses are female, according to the American Nurses Association. Conversely, the National Science Foundation reports that nine of 10 engineers are male,” he wrote.

Professor of secondary education in the College of Education Jane Applegate said that since the end of World War II, teaching has been a female-dominated profession.

“Teaching can be a very attractive profession for a woman who is married or has children because of the time factor – they get the summer off, they get home at the same time their kids get home from school – all those female assets are really built into the profession,” she said.

Though male teachers provide positive role models for young males in the classroom, the typically low salary of teachers is often a deterrent for male students, Applegate said.

“It’s like how we need more people of color – we need more men in the teaching profession. It’s a good thing. We’re always happy to see them in the classroom,” she said.

Sylvia Thomas, assistant dean for diversity and external affairs of the College of Engineering, said the disparity between male and female engineering students is a national trend. She said that although the college’s roughly 16 percent female population is lower than the national average of 21 percent, it is catching up and making strides to narrow the gap.

“It’s about making engineering attractive to women and young girls, and how we can engage girls in engineering, capture their attention and keep them in the field,” she said.

The College of Engineering is affiliated with organizations that strive to draw more women to the field, such as the Society of Women Engineers and the Women in Engineering Program Advocates Network (WEPAN), and works with organizations like the Girls Scouts of America to introduce engineering to young women, Thomas said.

“We’d like to see our female faculty increase, too,” Thomas said. “So in our recruitment efforts, we are engaging women who are in the engineering fields we offer.”

Genesis Blanco, a junior, said she notices the gender disparity in her education classes and thinks it might be linked to a femaie’s desires to make a difference in the lives of children.

“Call me overly traditional, but I really do believe that, in a way, being a teacher comes natural to a woman because of that motherly instinct everyone jokes about so much. You see men mostly going for careers that have to do with running businesses, or other such sentimentally detached fields,” she said.

Blanco said that while she would like to see more men majoring in education, she thinks a teacher’s ability to motivate students goes beyond gender.

“Sometimes I feel as if students don’t see their teachers as women or men, just teachers,” she said. “I remember that although I had male and female teachers when I was younger, what made me remember them the most were the things that they did to encourage me to do my best – not whether it was a woman or a man teaching me the lesson.”

Male dominated programs

College of Engineering84 percent male (2176)16 percent female (425)

Department of Math and Statistics59 percent male (91)41 percent female (64)

Female dominated programs

College of Education82 percent female (2110)18 percent male (460)

School of Social Work92 percent female (267)8 percent male (23)