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Majors show some gender imbalance

Kate Gales | Monday, March 29, 2004

How often does a professor look over his or her 100 students and see 47 women and 53 men?Not often. Instead, many immediately notice a striking difference in the number of men and women enrolled in a particular class.None of the University’s five undergraduate divisions – the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Science, the College of Engineering, the Mendoza College of Business and the School of Architecture – can claim a gender breakdown exactly proportional to the 4,358 men and 3,813 women making up Notre Dame’s undergraduate population, according to the Office of Institutional Research. However, some areas see a more significant sex discrepancy than others. A closer examination of the people behind the statistics generated each semester reveals changing trends in education. Deans, professors and advisers at Notre Dame have worked to combat stereotypes of a single sex dominating a college or major. Although some generalizations have held true, two areas where there is a significant gender balance are the College of Science and the School of Architecture. Joseph Marino, dean of the College of Science, is optimistic about the fact women are actually the majority in the college he oversees. In science, women hold a slight majority; 51.2 percent of the undergraduates are female. “You have to believe that if you’re seeing high numbers of women in the college, it’s a more balanced view of professions and genders,” he said.Within the college, the statistical gender breakdown by major reveals that women dominate biology, the most popular major in the college. Marino attributes this result in part to the pre-professional program, which he estimates is evenly split between the sexes.”Biology, chemistry and biochemistry attract the most women,” Marino said, “partly because of their connection to medicine and jobs in the pharmaceutical industry.” As of fall 2003, biology was by far the most popular major in the College of Science, with 240 students declared in that subject. Of these students, 147, or 61.3 percent, are women – making men a significant minority, as is true in the smaller field of environmental science.”We’re very even as far as boys and girls,” said Rachel Byrne, a sophomore biology major. “I picked biology as my major because I think I want to be a doctor, but I’m not really sure … it keeps my options open.”However, men hold slight enrollment advantages in biochemistry and environmental geoscience. Also, a significantly higher proportion of physics majors are men – over 80 percent.Chemistry is split evenly between men and women.”A lot of [a major choice] has to do with the job market, and where [students] see themselves going,” Marino said. “… The number of people at Notre Dame majoring in science is not so far off from other universities.”One thing that he does hope to change is the number of women on the faculty. “A lot has to do with role models, and how many faculty members are women,” he said. “In the College of Science we have a fair number of women [on the faculty].”Marino believes that Notre Dame compares well to the national average, and possibly surpasses it. However, he observed the numbers “are not nearly enough.””There are a lot of female TAs,” Bridget Gulling, a senior biology major, said. “There are very few female teachers, but they are awesome. A lot of times, their teaching style is a lot easier to understand.” Marino sees the United States as simply “catching up” to educational counterparts in Latin and South America, where women have dominated the sciences for decades.Although significantly smaller, the School of Architecture is in a similar situation. There are slightly fewer men than women enrolled in the college, but women are a minority on the faculty.”It’s not something I really worry about,” said Father Richard Bullene, assistant chair of architecture. “We seem to have a really good balance, and it seems to fluctuate from class to class.”According to Institutional Research, 94 men and 99 women were architecture majors during the fall semester. Bullene said that while the overall number of undergraduate students enrolling in architecture has recently decreased by about 10 percent per semester, the loss appears evenly distributed.”The gender makeup of the class doesn’t seem to shift,” he said.Gina Martell, a fifth-year architecture student, agreed that equality has been achieved among students, but added that faculty had a long way to go.”We’re pretty much exactly even,” she said. “There are only two female teachers … but [the faculty is] really aware that needs to be fixed.”She cited the program’s intense focus on classical architecture as a potential impediment to hiring a more diverse group of professors. While the relative lack of female role models in the school does not seem to be an impediment to female student interest, Bullene confirmed the department is looking to diversify. “Five years ago we were criticized for an under-representation of women and minorities,” Bullene said, speaking of the review each school of architecture undergoes every five years. “We’re making progress … It’s just very hard to find available candidates, but it is a conscious goal of ours to address.”