Engineering a male bastion once more

Engineering schools in Ontario are grappling with a drop in female students, in an alarming reversal of the trend everywhere else in universities, reported the Toronto Star Oct. 11. Women have fallen to just 20 per cent of first-year engineering classes in Ontario, down from almost 30 per cent five years ago – just as they reach nearly 60 per cent of all university undergraduates, more than 53 per cent of medical students and nearly half of law and business classes in North America.

Worried educators blame the drop partly on engineering’s outdated image – “We’re not all nerdy Dilberts!” insists one female prof – but also on a daunting new Grade 12 math course believed to be scaring off many students, especially less math-cocky females. “The new math course is killing us, because even though girls do well in math, they often don’t think they’re any good, so they’ll decide not to take it and then don’t choose engineering,” said biophysicist Gillian Wu, York University’s dean of science and engineering.

And then there’s the old raunchy image of engineers. “Look, the old image of engineers staying up all night drinking and waking up nurses doesn’t really appeal to many girls today – or many of their parents,” said Wu. “But people don’t really know much about engineering, the way they understand dentistry or teaching or business. They’ll read about some fabulous new building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind – but they won’t realize it’s engineers who will actually build it,” said Wu. “Maybe we need a prime-time TV show like ‘CSI’ to popularize engineering.”

‘Feminine’ words repel girls from math and science

A study by a York professor found that brief exposure to “feminine” words such as lipstick could affect women’s attitude toward math, reported the Hamilton Spectator Oct. 8. The research found that female university students can be negatively impacted by gender stereotypes in a mere fraction of a second. When undergrads are subconsciously reminded of their femininity, their attitudes towards math and science – areas traditionally dominated by men – undergo a rapid and troubling shift.

Participants were shown computerized flashes of feminine words such as “lipstick,” “pink” and “purse,” each lasting for less than a second. They were then asked to rate how pleasant they found various tasks associated with arts or math – for example, analyzing a poem or completing an algebra problem. Women subconsciously primed with feminine words showed a marked preference for arts over math, whereas those primed with traditionally “male” terms like “football,” “cigar” and “tough” did not. A follow-up study using different primes suggests the female stereotypes had affected women’s attitudes. Study participants included women enrolled in a wide range of disciplines.

“It’s very disturbing,” said study co-author Jennifer Steele, a professor of psychology in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. “Most women don’t actively endorse those kinds of stereotypes, yet these extremely subtle cues in our environment can actually cause a shift in the way we view ourselves.” Steele frets that university can become what she calls “the great divider” along lines of gender. She said women’s attitudes toward math and science are critical in predicting their willingness to pursue careers in those fields.

Canadians aren’t pushovers, OK?

Americans are pushy and Canadians are pushovers, right? Wrong, says a global study of how well national stereotypes match the self-perceptions of each country’s citizens, reported the National Post Oct. 8. The study, headed by the US government’s National Institute on Aging (NIA), involved 87 researchers from 49 countries around the world. Among the key findings is that generalized perceptions of certain cultures – the staid English, the cantankerous Czech, the submissive Canadian – are almost all “highly mistaken”. The self-image of the extroverted Irish, however, is bang on.

About 4,000 subjects were interviewed worldwide for the study. In Canada, psychologists from York University, the University of Winnipeg and the University of British Columbia took part in the project by asking a representative sample of post-secondary students in each city to describe the typical member of their national culture. The authors say the study shows how inaccurate images of national cultures are being perpetuated through media, schools, hearsay and jokes.

The Band’s Robertson praises prof’s history

The Band flourished from the late 1960s through to the mid-1970s while leading essentially a gimmick-free existence. That’s why it was so important for Robbie Robertson that the new and comprehensive five-CD/one-DVD release titled The Band: A Musical History be done properly, reported the Woodstock Sentinel-Review Oct. 8. “I have a great sense of satisfaction that I could hand this to anybody,” said Robertson, who is one of three surviving members of the original Band [and a 2005 York honorary-degree recipient]. A Musical History includes all the Band’s most famous songs, plus 37 unreleased tracks. Likewise, the DVD focuses on performances that rarely, if ever, have been seen before. Robertson said a lot of questions about the group have been answered in the 112-page book that accompanies A Musical History. “It was written by a Canadian, Rob Bowman [music professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts] and he did a great job,” Robertson said. “It is the most informed and accurate thing ever written on The Band.”

York loss to Windsor Lancers jeopardizes Lions’ playoff chances

In a dramatic turn of events, York University’s football season took a turn for the worse Saturday, reported The Toronto Sun Oct. 9. With a chance to lock up a playoff berth for the fifth successive fall and an opportunity of perhaps playing host to a post-season game, the Lions ended up getting mauled by the visiting Windsor Lancers. In losing 34-8 to a well balanced Lancers side, the Lions lost more than a football game and ground in the OUA standings. They may have lost their season. “We’ve definitely put ourselves in a bind,” veteran Lions offensive lineman and sociology student Claudio Tulipano said. “We’re still optimistic because the season isn’t over yet. What we’re not going to do is throw in the towel.”

Evaluating income trusts

The growth and maturation of the Canadian income trust market has produced a more comprehensive approach to the valuation of these securities by the financial analyst community, suggested Gordon S. Roberts, CIBC Professor of Financial Services at York’s Schulich School of Business, in the National Post Oct. 11. It is clearly in the interest of investors that rigorous valuation methods are being used to evaluate these popular securities. It must be remembered, however, that the valuations are only as good as the assumptions made.

On air

  • Anne-Marie Ambert, sociology professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, discussed the risk of divorce on co-habitation before marriage, on CRFB’s “Toronto at Noon” Oct. 7.