Archive for 'Retention'

Ask Donna: WomenTech Educators Video Blog #1

My first *Ask Donna* video blog post answers a big question that I know a lot of colleges want the answer to:

Question: If we have zero female students in our STEM/CTE program right now—and it’s in a very male-dominated field—how do we change that equation and recruit more women?

I know attracting women and girls to STEM/CTE courses in these circumstances can feel very, very difficult; however, the good news is that it is possible, and I have some examples from schools where they did so in one semester. In fact, both schools ended up with more women than men. You won’t want to miss this video!

Watch my first ever video blog to learn about innovative recruitment strategies that go beyond traditional outreach.

I can’t wait to hear what you think of it!

Talk with Donna 1-on-1 in a Women in STEM & CTE More Information Session: Sign up for a free call to talk with Donna about your college’s STEM/CTE programs and specific challenges.

The *Ask Donna* WomenTech Educators Video Blog: Have questions about how you can see more women and girls in your STEM/CTE courses? Need help overcoming a recruitment or retention challenge specific to your program and school? Now is your chance to get your question answered in a personal video from Donna Milgram—IWITTS Executive Director and developer of the WomenTech Educators Training System—in this new monthly video blog. Answering questions is Donna’s favorite part of providing professional development to help educators move the needle for women in STEM and CTE.

Want Donna to answer your question in the next *Ask Donna* video blog? Donna’s coaching is usually limited to WomenTech Educators Training school teams, so don’t miss this opportunity to *Ask Donna* your questions on broadening participation.

Ask Donna – Submit a Question Now

Stay tuned for a new *Ask Donna* video blog each month!

IWITTS Celebrates Its 20-Year Anniversary!

A note from Donna: Like Rosie the Riveter, “We Can Do It!”

I’m happy to share with you that IWITTS recently celebrated our 20th anniversary as an organization. So have we fulfilled our mission, to help educators nationwide close the gender gap for women and girls in technology? We’ve made tremendous strides, but there is still so much work to be done.

I have personally worked with inspiring educators like Barbara Dufrain, a computer programming professor who attended a WomenTech Educators Training. In less than a year following the training, Professor Dufrain increased her female enrollment by 62% and increased the retention of her female and male students by 45%.

Our Proven Practices Collection on the IWITTS website now contains over 100 journal articles and case studies with proven strategies from programs which have increased the number of female students in STEM programs around the country. In our own CalWomenTech Project, community colleges received expert support and technical assistance to help recruit and retain women into technology programs where they were under-represented. The Project was highlighted by the National Science Foundation for demonstrating significant achievement and program effectiveness.

The exciting news is that in the 20 years since I’ve founded this organization we’ve identified what works and we have more tools than ever to teach the knowledgebase to a growing number of educators and to support them in implementation. We now have real time training, online training, webinars, support for implementation, posters and banners with female role models and so much more! We have the secrets to successfully recruiting and retaining women and girls in STEM, and our retention strategies work for male students too. However, we aren’t reaching enough educators, administrators and counselors.

Just last week I conducted a WomenTech Educators Training for a very engaged group of IT instructors from across the state of California (and half of the participants were male – yay!). Yet, many of my recruitment and retention secrets were completely new information to them. Why are our secrets still secrets in 2014? During the break, a male IT instructor – who also works in industry – said to me, “I now understand the differences between female and male learning styles, wow, what a difference that makes to me both as a teacher and in my workplace.” My goal for the next 20 years is for our recruitment and retention secrets to not to be secrets anymore. We must expand our work and scale up so that our recruitment and retention secrets are not just held by separate and special programs for women and girls in STEM but instead are the domain of the mainstream education system at all school levels.

So I am asking for your help in expanding our audience. Please help us help educators unlock the secrets to recruiting and retaining female students by doing the following:

1) Send your colleagues this link to my free report: “How to Recruit Women & Girls to the STEM Classroom”

In this special report, you will discover:

  • The top secret to increasing the number of women in your classes
  • Examples of successful outreach campaigns and what made them work
  • Key messages female students need to hear that will get them interested in your STEM programs
  • And much more

Share this link:

2) Join the conversation and like us on Facebook at

3) Attend our next WomenTech Educators Online Training with your team

At the training, you’ll develop recruitment and retention action plans to increase the number of female students in STEM programs. Come as a team: the more educators you can train in your department, region, or state, the more likely you are to have significant increases in female students in your school’s STEM programs, as well as lasting institutional change.

Find out more about the Online Training

I’m grateful to the IWITTS community – thousands of educators from around the country – who have partnered with us and worked with each other to implement these proven strategies in their classrooms, programs, districts, regions and states. From adjunct instructors to college presidents, and counselors, advisors, administrators, and many others, I’m continually inspired by the dedication of educators who care deeply about ensuring that female students have unlimited potential to pursue rewarding, fulfilling careers in STEM. It’s up to us to ensure that the secrets to recruiting and retaining women (and men) in STEM won’t be secrets anymore.

Like Rosie the Riveter said, “We can do it!”


STEM Students Must be Taught to Fail

Plan A B

In November, US News and World Report ran a story entitled, “STEM Students Must Be Taught to Fail: Failure will teach students to take the risks necessary for innovation.” I took note because in my WomenTech Educators retention training, I teach STEM educators to teach their students to fail and I go into some detail on how to accomplish this. Learning how to fail is especially important for female students, who have often been culturally conditioned to be perfectionists. Ironically, their desire to get the “right” answer the first time can impede their ability to experiment, fail, try again, and eventually come up with the real right answer. Successful STEM students must learn to try a solution, get it wrong, and try again because this is a fundamental element of the science and technology experimentation process they must master to be successful in their STEM courses and career. According to the US News and World Report story, this unwillingness to take a risk and make a mistake is a problem that impacts both female and male students – and sometimes even their instructors. STEM educators, I’d love to hear from you if you teach your students how to fail: How do you do it? BTW, my next WomenTech Educators Training will be online and starts February 25, 2013. Don’t miss the early bird registration ending next week on January 11, 2013.

Creating a Work-Around for Recruiting Women to STEM

I don’t know how many times I have talked to educators who told me they have tried to increase the number of women in STEM but their efforts just didn’t work, so they stopped trying.  “What did you do?” I’ll say. “Oh we put up a flyer,” or “We had an open house that few women came to,” is often the kind of response I get.  Well, I know that there are at least 24 major evidence-based recruitment strategies they might have tried.  (I know this from the STEM Program Readiness Assessment for Women and Girls that we are developing.  Look out for more about the Assessment coming soon!)

It’s interesting to me, the same technology educators who might stay up all night trying to figure out how to make a computer program work, and are very familiar with the world of work-a-rounds, just give up when the first thing they try doesn’t work to recruit more women or girls to STEM. Why is that? I’d love your comments and thoughts about this.

PS  If you’d like to learn what those 24 strategies are, check out our online training.

Question/Answer:What To Do When A Woman is Blocked by a Woman

On 8/27, Mcauly asks what should she do when she’s blocked by another woman? question markJulia Child actually gives us some guidance on what to do when as a woman you are blocked by another woman. (See my earlier post of 8/20).  Essentially the same thing you would do if you were blocked by a man. 1) She uses politically savvy – by referencing her ally in power (the ambassador); 2) she persists by insisting she be given the test and by asking to be given it again when it is designed for her to fail; 3) she over prepares and studies long, long hours – determined to pass; 4) she does not take it personally.

She reminds me of the first women entering firefighting and what they went through. Is it fair, no? However, there are important lessons to be learned from those pioneers like Julia who refuse to fail. To summarize: have good political skills, persist, over prepare, don’t take things personally.

Readers, do you have strategies you’ve used successfully that you’d like to share? Please comment.

Where do I connect with women’s associations in technology and trades?

Recruiting 101:  Have you visited the career links section of There are links to many women in technology and trade associations—some of which have local chapters or an email list that you can access.   A few examples of what you can find include Women in GIS, Women in Animation and Women in HVACR .

Will teaching spatial reasoning eliminate the need for support strategies for women?

Math Linking Blocks
What if I told you that you could potentially improve the retention of your female students in engineering by almost 30% just by providing them with 12 contact hours of spatial reasoning education?

That’s what Dr. Sheryl Sorby of Michigan Technological University did.  Seventy-seven percent of women who took an introductory spatial skills course she developed under an NSF grant were retained in Engineering Design, compared to 48% of the women who didn’t take the course (Female n=251).  That’s a 29% difference!

There is a great deal of evidence showing that overall women and girls as a group have significantly less ability in spatial reasoning, a skill that is critical to engineering and other science disciplines.  There is also evidence that spatial reasoning skills and test scores can be easily upgraded in a short period of time.  You can read nine articles in our Proven Practices Library on this topic!

Hear from Dr. Sorby herself – the leading researcher on gender and spatial reasoning – in these U.S. Department of Education video interviews.

Sheryl Sorby

Sheryl Sorby

Want a tested spatial reasoning course and teacher’s guide so you can implement a course in your school?  This link takes you to the CD and workbook for students and this one takes you to the teacher’s guide.

Have you noticed a gender difference in spatial reasoning skills between your female and male students? Or have you experienced difficulty in this area yourself? Dr. Sorby, an engineer, tells how it was her own difficulty with spatial reasoning, despite being an A student, that led to her interest in this topic.  She wanted to make the path easier for the women (and men) coming behind her.