Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

Britt Reese

Academic Specialist, Biology
Director of Women in Science

School of Science

Women in Science

I serve as the Director of the Women in Science Program and Women in Science House at IUPUI. The Women in Science Program is a developing program consisting of UWIS (Undergraduate Women in Science), GWIS (Graduate Women in Science), and FWIS (Faculty Women in Science. The mission of the Women in Science Program will be to provide tools of success for bright young female scientists and professionals in a collaborative environment in the School of Science. Along with the three bodies, there is a Residential Based Learning Community, WISH, to further support undergraduate students.

The Women in Science House (WISH) is an on-campus residential living and learning community for outstanding female science students of various class years and majors. Women in Science House engages in academic activities that enhance educational success, learning experiences, mentoring, and service learning and community-based activities. Women in Science fosters an environment of academic and professional development and provides a nurturing atmosphere for personal growth.The students and alumni of WISH have flourished during their time at IUPUI and beyond. WISH has impacted the undergraduate education and personal development of many women in the School of Science.

Currently, I am in the process of developing a STEM Gateway Community for first year students in collaboration with the School of Engineering & Technology. This residental based learning community will focus on the first year experience and STEM fields.

Increasing enrollment and retention of women in STEM majors is a national effort. In 1950, women held only 12.2% of STEM careers. This time era was marked by the domestic role of women. The priority of marriage, interruptions of the career because of the maternal role, and family dynamics during the early years of development have all impacted the number of women in STEM fields (Rossi 1965). Today, women hold only 24% of STEM careers (US Department of Commerce 2011). Although the domestic role of women in our current culture has changed, women are still lagging behind in STEM fields in enrollment numbers and retention. From pedagogy to institutional programs, efforts can be made to attract and retain women into STEM majors.

The feeling of discouragement and not belonging is a common theme of women who drop out of STEM majors in reaction to faculty pedagogy and overall culture of the major (Seymour 1995). Sense of belonging can develop at an early age due to previous educational experiences. Multiple studies have found differences in teacher-student interaction from elementary through high school. One study found that male students receive more acceptance-intellectual, criticism-intellectual, and criticism-conduct than female students, which reinforces independent thinking in male students (Duffy 2005). Therefore the attitudes, early experiences, and lack of preparation for a rigorous STEM curriculum and culture is fixed with many female students before they enter higher education (Blickenstaff 2005, Seymour 1995, Duffy et al. 2005). When entering higher education, the faculty-student dynamics does not create a reassuring environment for students with low confidence, and for too many females translates into discouragement and can lead to leaving the STEM major (Seymour 1995).

As higher educators, there are many opportunities we can provide to support and retain these women in STEM. Both perceived compatibility between gender and major and perceived social support have been found to be major variables in predicting success (Rosenthal et al. 2011).  Creating an environment with successful, strong female role models along with a support network are steps that can be taken institution-wide to retain women in STEM.

Blickenstaff, Jacob. Women and Science careers: Leaky Pipeline or Gender Filter? Gender and Education, Vol. 17(4), 2005.

Duffy, Jim, Kelly Warren, and Margaret Walsh. Classroom Interactions: Gender of Teacher, Gender of Student, and Classroom Subject. Sex Roles, Vol. 45, 2002.

Rosenthal, Lisa, Bonita London, Sheri Robin Levy, and Marci Lobel. The Roles of Perceived Identity Compatibility and Social Support for     Women in a Single-Sex STEM Program at a Co-educational University. Sex Roles, Vol. 65, 2011.

Rossi, Alice S., Women in Science: Why so Few? Science, Vol 148, 1965.

Seymour, Elaine. Why undergraduate leave the sciences. American Journal of Physics, Vol. 63(3), 1995.

U.S. Department of Commerce. Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation. Executive Summary, ESA Issue Brief #04-11, 2011.

Biology

My research and laboratory background focuses on molecular plant pathology, specifically host-pathogen interactions.  As a plant pathologist, I focus on studying the interaction between Aspergillus flavus and maize (B73).  Aspergillus flavus causes ear rot of maize and infects other oil crops.  A. flavus produces a toxic secondary metabolite, aflatoxin B1 (AFB1), which causes liver necrosis, acute toxicity, cancer, or mortality.  By studying the metabolic response of A. flavus to the development of A. flavus, a thorough view of host-pathogen interaction was established. In the process, the discovery and characterization of a putative phytase gene, phy1, was completed.  This phytase was shown to be an important part of A. flavus pathogenesis. I also have a background in maize breeding, specifically for disease resistant traits.

In the Department of Biology, I teach honors biology laboratories, along with Bridge and Windows on Science. My current research interests focus on biology education and curriculum enhancement strategies.  I am also highly involved in mentoring and guiding new graduate student teaching assistants.