Brock Biological Sciences Professor Liette Vasseur wrote a piece recently published in The Conversation about the needs for additional supports to encourage mature female students in STEM programming.
Women face many barriers when it comes to post-secondary education, and this is especially true in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as in traditionally male-dominated trades like welding. These barriers are even higher for mature female students — those who are at least 24 years old — who are often discriminated against when they want to pursue their studies.
My biology master’s student, Heather VanVolkenburg, is a mature student who returned to post-secondary education after having a family. Just before the 2017 Gender Summit in Montréal, we were discussing women in STEM and the challenges they face when I discovered that mature students seemed to encounter even more barriers than younger women. This made me reflect on a simple question: are certain groups of people, especially mature students, being discriminated against in higher education?
During our discussion panel at the Gender Summit, this question came up again by a person in the audience. Some participants were surprised when I mentioned how mature female students face barriers in STEM and trades education. This was the first step towards Heather and I preparing a reflection paper published by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO’s IdeaLab, which sought to determine the current situation of mature female students in STEM and trades and identify the barriers they face.
We found that mature students understand better their role in society and want to contribute. This is one of the reasons they are interested in returning to higher education. There are, of course, other reasons. Among them are new career options, the need for more credentials and career prospect improvement. Self-interest is often suggested, and though this might have been true a few decades ago, I would caution people against thinking that’s the main reason.
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