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My Discrete Mathematics class has 55 students in it. Of this population, I see a diverse classroom with people from all backgrounds. But, in this class of 55 students designed for undergraduate computer science students there are two women.

While this case study may have been a particularly pronounced example, the fact remains that the women in this nation are not encouraged to study engineering, an area that includes majors such as biochemical engineering, mechanical engineering and civil engineering.

The National Science Foundation tracks the amount of undergraduates enrolled in engineering programs by race, sex, ethnicity and citizenship. In 2011, the foundation reported 471,920 students enrolled in undergraduate engineering courses. Of this number, 65 percent were white. While minorities are underrepresented in the scientific field, the disproportionality is more pronounced for women. 

The study showed that 384,095 of the 471,920 students were male. Meaning less than 20 percent of the population studied was female, despite the fact that more than 50 percent of the general population is female.  

This is harmful on a number of levels. It perpetuates the stereotype that men are better suited to work in science and engineering than women. These majors are academically rigorous and require students of the highest level, male or female, to gain success in the coursework. This lack of women sends a message to the men in those courses that encountering a woman in science or engineering is an anomaly.

The harm also extends after students leave undergraduate education. Engineering and science degrees garner higher paychecks and are better guarantee of a successful future. The idea that women should find a "rich husband" who is a doctor, engineer or lawyer stems from the lack of women in those fields and, by extension, a lack of women getting those kinds of paychecks.

Watch: How ASU is breaking down gender and color barriers

Masculine centrality has been a hallmark in the history of innovation as women have been denied access to the same education that men have received for millennia. There is a reason the history books are littered with Edisons, Einsteins and Newtons of our past but have short blurbs on Curie, Franklin and Lovelace. That is because, historically, women haven’t been able to pursue careers in the sciences.

Unfortunately, the past repeats itself. Our society continues to discourage women's participation in the sciences as there are significant voices in pop culture, politics and literature that seek to define what women's role in society should be. The social consciousness is prone to glorifying the past and furthering the stereotypes that maintain the status quo. 

In an increasingly capitalist world, power and influence are tied to income. Income is earned through education, hard work and luck. Women are no less hardworking or lucky than their male counterparts. But across the world they are continually denied access to education.

While the U.S. may not lie on the extreme end of civil rights violations against the female population, the U.S. still impedes women's access to certain positions. The result is a vicious cycle. Women are not encouraged to be doctors, lawyers or politicians to the same extent as their male peers. Which translates to fewer female doctors, lawyers and politicians to change the stigma that women are not suited for those roles. And the cycle repeats.

Now is the hour — it is try or die. The time is now, not just at ASU but across this nation to change social stigmas and strive for a more balanced society. ASU is ahead of the curve in some respects, less so in others. Despite the fact that a number of organizations exist to promote women in engineering, grant scholarship money for women and glorify the contributions of women, it is not enough to erase the message they have been hearing their entire lives: “Girls don’t become scientists.” A radical change in the way all children are educated is necessary to empower people through increased opportunities.

Related Links:

National collaborative advances women of color in STEM at ASU

ASU professor, Science Cheerleaders break stereotypes one cheer at a time

Reach the columnist at or follow @caleblikevauban on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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