NASA has awarded seven Women’s Colleges and Universities (WCUs) $5 million in funding to research and develop strategies that increase retention of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degree programs and careers.

The space agency’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) created the funding opportunity to help women overcome obstacles and barriers to working in STEM fields. This award seeks to address the significant national gender gap and disparate experiences of women in STEM in the United States, both in higher education and the workforce.

According to data from the National Center of Education Statistics, women earn 59 percent of undergraduate degrees compared to 41 percent of men, however, only 10 percent of those degrees are in STEM fields.

This trend is also reflected in workplace data. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women represent 47 percent of the workforce but only made up 27 percent of the STEM workforce. For women of color in STEM, that number is even less – fewer than one in 20 are scientists and engineers.

“This is a very exciting first; we’re making strides to close the pervasive gender gap in STEM, and Women’s Colleges and Universities are well-positioned to help drive that positive change,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a press release. “It’s more important than ever we have brilliant, enthusiastic people entering the workforce and ready to take on the ambitious plans and challenges ahead.”

The funding opportunity was created in response to a June 2021 Biden administration executive order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce. According to the space agency, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are the future for the STEM workforce, especially at NASA.

NASA is asking that the selected WCUs leverage their expertise and create programs to help women overcome obstacles and barriers to working in STEM fields. NASA asks that these programs include academics, research, student support, college prep, career prep, mentoring, and more.

Each awardee is also asked to provide a guidebook of data, instructions, and best practices to serve as a blueprint for other Minority-Serving Institutions and WCUs seeking to create similar programs.

The selected institutions and their proposed projects are:

  • Agnes Scott College – Alumnae Network & Career Resources Program
  • Alverno College – “Launching the Future”: An Intersectional Approach to Boosting Recruitment and Retention of Women in STEM Undergraduate Education
  • Cedar Crest College – Tackling Obstacles for Women’s Engagement & Retention in STEM
  • College of Saint Mary – Project BLOOM for Women in STEM
  • Salem Academy and College – Soar With Salem: A Comprehensive Program to Inspire Women and Girls to Become the Next Generation of STEM Professionals
  • Simmons University – DREAM-WSTEM
  • Smith College – Developing a Pathway to MaRS in STEM: A Cascading Mentorship Model
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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.