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'A Day with Virginia Valian' to explore underrepresentation of women in STEM fields

March 25, 2010

Kelly Homan Rodoski
(315) 443-3784

Syracuse University’s Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) will host Virginia Valian, one of the leading experts on gender equality in the academy, on the SU campus on Friday, April 16. Valian will engage members of the SU and greater communities in conversations and seminars in addition to a public lecture on exploring ways to remedy the “leaky pipeline,” the attrition of women who pursue tenure-track or leadership positions in the sciences and engineering.

The public lecture, “Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women in the Academy,” will begin at 4 p.m. in Room 105 in the Life Sciences Complex. The event is free and open to the public. Valian will also meet with select, invited groups on campus throughout the day.

A report issued March 22 by the American Association of University Women (AAWU) with the support of the National Science Foundation found that even though women have made some advances in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology (STEM), cultural biases and stereotypes still exist that act as roadblocks on their path to success. This stubborn trend of underrepresentation continues even as women pursue graduate degrees in science and engineering at nearly equal rates as men.

“Despite SU’s deep commitment to equity and inclusion, the number of women in the STEM disciplines on campus remains below the national average,” says Shobha Bhatia, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science and director of WiSE. “The involvement of all faculty and campus leaders is essential to achieve lasting transformation. Dr. Valian’s visit will help us start the conversations necessary to foster change.”

Valian is professor of psychology and linguistics at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a cognitive scientist whose research focuses on language acquisition in two-year-olds, second language acquisition and sex differences in cognition. Her work has been published in leading journals in cognitive and developmental psychology. She was an advisory board member for the recent AAWU report “Why So Few?”

She was the lead principal investigator at Hunter College for the first round of the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Institutional Transformational Awards, and through that project and her studies of sex differences in cognition developed extensive knowledge about gender equality and inclusion. More information on the Hunter College ADVANCE initiative can be found at

In her landmark book,“Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women” (MIT Press, 1998), Valian uses concepts and data from psychology, sociology, economics, biology and neuropsychology to explain the disparity in the professional advancement of men and women. Men and women, Valian argues, have implicit hypotheses about gender differences—gender schemas—that create small sex differences in characteristics, behaviors, perceptions and evaluations of men and women. Those small imbalances accumulate to the advantage of men and the disadvantage of women.

WiSE at Syracuse University is an innovative program designed to enhance and support the professional development and persistence of women faculty and students in the sciences and engineering. Students engaged in WiSE programs benefit from support and networking opportunities, peer mentoring, opportunities for leadership skill development, and career training and workshops. Two of WiSE’s signature programs include the Future Professional Program and the WiSE Learning Community.

For more information about the April 16 events or other WiSE programs, contact Sharon Alestalo, WiSE program manager, at 443-3419 or

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