Today on NPR

As usual, I had NPR on the car radio while I was running some errands today.  Not unusually, the bits and parts of the stories I heard really got me thinking. Most unusually, they even inspired me to do a blog post.

The first story was on the national program, Here and Now, and was about two female engineers from the University of Illinois who developed a new line of dolls called Miss Possible and got crowd-funding thru Indiegogo. They see their dolls as an alternative to Barbie and American Girl. Inspired by the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” the founders hope to inspire girls with positive role models. The first doll to come out will be Marie Curie, but it will be Marie Curie as a 10-yr old girl, not the Nobel-winning scientist, so that girls of today can relate to her better. The doll will come with links to her real-life story as well as to simple chemistry  experiments that can be done at home. Also planned are a Bessie Coleman (aviator) doll and a Ada Lovelace (computer programmer) doll.

I would have been all over these for my daughters. I never was a doll girl myself, but I indulged the daughters their Barbie fandom. The barbies they preferred were of imaginary characters (Snow White and Ariel) or associated with activities that our family did (camping), fortunately they were never too into the fashion aspect of those dolls. I felt much better indulging their love for the American Girl Dolls. At least here they were getting some realistic(?) historical context and books to read. The barbies in the house gradually dwindled until D#2 dressed as a cannibal for Halloween sometime in middle school.  The remaining barbies were decapitated and their “shrunken” heads were hung from her belt. Good riddance, I said. Their American Girl collection is boxed up, awaiting a worthy grandchild. I do think that American Girl has done a lot of things right with positive messages for girls, and I think the Miss Possible dolls are moving another step forward.

The second story, from the local NPR affiliate, was an interview with Renu Khator, the president of the University of Houston. I missed the beginning of the question, but in her response, Khator said that she was surprised that the caller said he had never had a black instructor because UH actually has a higher number of black people who they put in front of a class (profs, teachers, TAs, etc) than either UT or TexA&M. She acknowledged that the university still needs to do more to hire qualified minorities.

Her comments got me thinking…and thinking…and I realized that I cannot remember having a black (African-American or African) teacher at Purdue. And then I realized that I cannot remember having a female teacher at Purdue. Certainly I do not remember all my profs and TAs. I distinctly remember one Indian (Arabic?) Calculus professor and one Chinese TA, but every other teacher I remember was white and male. Admittedly, that was 35 yrs ago and I majored in Engineering. (Miss Possible’s creator reminded me that even today, only 18% of engineering students are female.) Purdue was and still is a leader in graduating female engineers, and I know that a female EE professor is now the Dean of the School of Engineering, but my own interactions with female faculty was (memorably) non-existent.

I’d really like to hear from all of my 6 loyal followers if any of you remember having minority teachers at college. I know it’s sometimes a pain to comment on the blog, so just email me or tell me directly if you’d rather. And if I don’t already know, make sure you let me know when and where you went to college, as well as your major. Was engineering faculty dramatically more male and white than other disciplines way back when? And has anything changed in the last 35 years?

4 thoughts on “Today on NPR

  1. Sounds like some great NPR thought provoking reporting. Miss Possible does sound like a winning idea. My daughter, Caroline was 100% tomboy as a young girl, had no interest whatsoever in dolls, or wearing dresses. She did a research report and presentation on Marie Curie in third grade…I can see her now in her white lab coat. She told us she no longer wanted to be a Girl Scout but instead wanted to join Boy Scouts with her brother because they went camping and did cool stuff. Miss Possible would probably have been a slam dunk for Caroline.
    My professors at University of Michigan (Econ) were primarily white males with some female TAs. Probably weren’t many female economists back then either. I don’t have a clear memory of minority professors….which must mean there really weren’t many if any.

  2. Purdue Electrical Engineering, 1975-79 … almost forty years, now (gulp).
    The female student engineering population was 11% back then — one out of nine — and that figure was reputed to be the highest in the country. (If you call me later, I will repeat for you a Genuinely FUNNY Story about dating other engineers back then, involving our friend GP the Nurse.)

    EE had ONE black professor (from Africa), ONE female professor (the same woman you just mentioned who IS now, in fact, that Dean of Engineering), and a fair scattering of Asian profs.

    Close to a third of the EE TAs were from China or India or the Middle East — and I was thinking just last week about one of them, a supremely gifted grad-student in The Toughest Junior Course Out There (EE307: Fields & Waves) who had to go back to Iran right at the height of the Islamic Revolution … what a waste.

    Aaaaaand: even my electives featured mostly White Male Instructors.

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