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Parents confident their children can succeed in science

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - While women, American Indians and other minorities are
underrepresented in science and engineering in the United States, a new
study shows that almost all Native parents are highly confident their
children can succeed in these fields and actively encourage them to learn
science.

A new national survey by Bayer Corp. focusing on parents' attitudes toward
science education finds 96 percent of American Indian parents surveyed
believe their sons have the ability to succeed in science and math in
school and 97 percent have confidence their daughters can succeed.

While parents' confidence is high, representation of women, American
Indians, blacks and Hispanics in science and engineering is low, and at the
same time fewer students are pursuing careers in those fields.

The findings come at a time of growing concern that the United States is
losing its competitive edge in science and engineering areas that are vital
to the global economy.

"Recent reports have repeatedly warned of a troubling decline in the number
of scientists produced in the U.S. and a rising demand for scientists to
fill the wide variety of jobs out there. There are simply not enough
students in the pipeline of those being trained as scientists and
engineers," said Sarah Toulouse, who oversees Bayer's Making Science Make
Sense, which commissioned the national survey.

"We believe by reaching out to women and minorities we can reach some level
to fill that pipeline issue," Toulouse said.

Unlike Harvard University President Lawrence Summers, who sparked a
national controversy earlier this year when he speculated that there are
fewer women in science because of innate biological differences, American
Indian parents had high levels of confidence in both their sons' and
daughters' abilities to succeed in science and engineering careers (89
percent sons; 95 percent daughters). However, they had more confidence (67
percent) that their sons actually would succeed in a career than their
daughters (57 percent).

And while parents are confident in their children's abilities, the survey
shows they see more challenges for their daughters than their sons in
learning science and making a career in the field. The reasons cited
include difficulty of the subject, the lack of good role models or mentors,
boring classes and poorly qualified teachers.

Fifty-two percent of American Indian parents surveyed said they are aware
of gender and minority inequality in the fields of science and engineering,
but only 16 percent were "very concerned" about it.

Those who were very concerned said their reasons include a belief that
everyone should have an equal shot at science and engineering jobs, that
discrimination of any kind is unfair and that "we need all the talent we
can get."

The low level of parental concern was unexpected, Toulouse said.

"I think the biggest surprise for us was the disconnect with the parents'
level of concern, which was low unlike what the National Science Board, the
governing board of the National Science Foundation, is suggesting,"
Toulouse said.

The United States has always been seen as a superpower when it comes to
science and technology, but perhaps that perspective has outrun the
reality, Toulouse said.

"We really have to invest in our students today. We have to really pay
attention to the education our students are receiving so they're able to
create the new technologies and invent the new medicine that we need to
stay competitive," Toulouse said.

Toulouse conceded that another possible reason for the low level of concern
could be that American Indian and other minority families may be more
concerned with daily needs than the declining number of American
scientists.

Bayer is planning to hold a national forum in the fall as a first step
toward resolving the issues raised in the survey.

"It's still in the concept phase, but... we'd like to invite organizations
that have programs in place to increase the number of women and minorities
in science and engineering fields and talk about what their best practices
are, and that way we as a nation can begin to address the issues," Toulouse
said.