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The Legacy of a Canadian Tragedy, and ‘STEM’ Education

By Sean Cavanagh — December 07, 2009 1 min read

Twenty years ago, a gunman entered the engineering school at the École Polytechnique in Montreal and killed 14 women, injuring 10 more, along with four men. The assailant claimed he was “fighting feminism.” The tragedy became known as the Montreal Massacre.

This story in the Ottawa Citizen recounts that event and examines the reluctance of female students to pursue engineering studies. The author does not suggest a direct connection between the school shooting and the larger trend. But the story discusses the isolation that female students encounter in some science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or “STEM,” fields, and the stereotypes that seem to drive them away. According to the story, the percentage of women majoring in engineering studies at two Canadian universities rose from 12 percent to 24 percent from 1996 to 2000, but then fell, and now stands at about 17 percent.

One Canadian woman who made it into the field, who’s quoted in the story, is Monique Frize, an engineering professor at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. She’s just released a book, The Bold and The Brave, about the history of women in science and engineering.

Teachers and researchers who’ve studied gender disparities in STEM probably won’t be surprised that Canadian colleges (and perhaps schools) are coping with many of the some issues that U.S. education is. Perhaps Frize’s work will inform the work of American educators who are attempting to bring more females into science and math-related disciplines.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.