Engineering and Sciences School of Universidad de la Frontera in Temuco - CHILE

Promoting female participation and STEM education

Georgina Ivonne Gutiérrez Montenegro, University of La Frontera, Chile

The Engineering and Sciences School (FICA) is the greater academic unit of Universidad de La Frontera (UFRO). Through various undergraduate and postgraduate programs, research, and industry linkage, it is a relevant actor in de development of the southern macro-region of Chile, making concrete contributions in a broad spectrum of important emerging topics such as renewable energies, biofuels, telecommunications, informatics, environment, mathematical modeling, and several other disciplines.
It offers the programs of Biochemistry, Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Biotechnology Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Physics Engineering, Computer Engineering, Mathematical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Telematics Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Construction Engineering, Computer Engineering, Industrial Engineering with specialization in Bioprocesses, Industrial Engineering with specialization in Computer, Industrial Engineering with specialization in Mechanics and Common Plan of Engineering.
The enrollment of women at the first year (average of the last 5 years) represents only 24,6% of total students rolled in the School. This is not an isolated situation; it is a reality at a national level.
According to UNESCO statistics, Chile is among other countries with smaller female participation in STEM programs, in comparison to OECD countries, in fact, it is in the last position and well below the average.
In particular, in Engineering programs, the scenario is no more encouraging, since data from SIES (Higher Education System) show that Engineering specializations such as Electrical, Electronic, Mechanical and Computer, among others, do not reach 5% or 10% of the enrollments in the first year, the same reality of FICA-UFRO. The distribution of average enrollment, in STEM programs of the Engineering and Sciences Schools, are shown in the following table.

Distribution of enrollments of women in STEM programs of the Engineering and Sciences School (average of the last 5 years)

Several studies have addressed these gaps in STEM disciplines and show that they are the result of gender stereotypes of the education systems, which impact the vocational options of girls, causing that they have less self-confidence and do not consider professional or technical STEM programs. This is a transversal problem in Chile, but also in other countries of the world.
The Engineering and Sciences School of Universidad de La Frontera (UFRO) is implementing actions and strategies to narrow the gender gap in the university. In this respect, during 2020, a study that established a precedent to advance in this matter was presented. It is a report prepared by a consultant which explore three levels of the School (academic, administrative and students). The research details 11 dimensions and 51 indicators of genders gap, from documentary and statistical information obtained between January and October of 2020. The diagnosis provides a series of recommendations oriented to improve the current situation in the School, where the incorporation of gender perspective highlights as a strategic action which will involve, transversally, all the organization. The diagnosis will be translated to actions to be included in the management and development strategic plan.

Additionally, and to promote feminine participation in Engineering, since 2018 the Engineering and Sciences School is fostering the program “I want to be an Engineer” (Yo quiero ser Ingeniera), intended for students of third and fourth years of secondary education from educational institutions of southern Chile. The objective is to involve young people in talks and workshops of vocational orientation, to receive support and accompaniment in the process of choosing their professional future, to know the professional field and the role of women in Engineering, and to offer a more direct and close access to the different programs of the School. In its first versions, the program has gathered more than 300 women students interested in Engineering.

Moreover, the Program “Women Leaders STEM UFRO” (Mujeres Líderes STEM), has the objective to strengthen skills and competences among the undergraduate students as a relevant aspect for their personal and professional education. This is other initiative of the Engineering and Sciences School that is part of the efforts to encourage female participation in STEM disciplines that is currently in its second version.
The program has the participation of approximately 70 students of different programs of the School, with a program of 27 total hours, divided in 4 modules and the use of active methodology.
Women Leaders STEM UFRO is addressed from three pillars of leadership, which seeks that students acquire the bases to strengthen their identity through self-knowledge and acceptance, to facilitate decision-making and the achievement of their objectives. It also aims that students can use the key competences to potentiate their individual development and their professional projections.
All of this is oriented to provide a comprehensive education of women leadership in the social area and organizations, through intensive learning activities to acquire concepts, models and to live experiences to make the transfer from theoretical to practical.

Finally, the Engineering and Sciences School considers necessary to continue with the efforts oriented to strong STEM education of professionals from UFRO. In this line, it is proposed the creation of an Education Center, which is aimed to achieve high standards in STEM education, student-centered, with FICA faculty as engines of the process and the innovation and educational research as main tools.
The work of the “Education Center STEM” (Centro de Formación STEM) will be centered in 3 strategic axes, that can be regarded as part of a cycle, which starts monitoring or measuring the status of the organization and their members with their peers, then communicating it in order that the members can put themselves in the position to improve, and then with transforming actions for the organization to adopt the best practices of STEM education.
Strategic Axis 1: Monitor the Status, Evaluate and Recognize the Quality of STEM Education: The center will measure the progress of the quality improvement process and the results achieved by the students. Likewise, to conduct the surveillance (national and international) of the best practices in STEM education.
Strategic Axis 2: Strengthen STEM Teaching through Quality Standards: The center will propose and promote minimum standards for teaching practice in FICA, forming teaching communities in continuous improvement.

Strategic Axis 3: Foster Excellence and Innovation in the Processes and Programs of STEM Education: The center will foster the obtention of international accreditations in STEM education, and also support curricular and teaching innovation with impact in the quality of education.
Recently, the Dean of the Schools has requested to a group of women, professionals and teachers, of the School to start a first experimental year in order to install the STEM Education Center in the near future, in the School. The team depends on FICA, with a management and strategic support of the Vice-Deanery.
The objective of the team will be to reach the highest standards in all the processes related with teaching/learning of STEM disciplines inside the School; Promoting best practices in STEM teaching; Fostering innovation in the teaching/learning process with a high commitment with inclusive education, gender equality, diversity and interculturality in STEM education; Fostering the development of Research in STEM teaching; Monitoring the progress, trends and challenges that STEM education faces and will face; Contributing in the Curricular Innovation or Adjustments processes; Promoting measures of Monitoring, Measurement and evaluation, for continuous improvement of relevant strategic indicators for the School; Contributing in the accreditations or certifications processes (national and International). The team has been formed by internal resolution of the School.

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