Partnership for Rural Women in Math Careers

Broadening Participation of Rural Young Women in Careers Involving Advanced Mathematics

A recent conversation with my eleven year old daughter went a little awry. When I asked her if she knew any female mathematicians, she pondered it for a moment and then admitted that she didn’t know ANY mathematicians. Fair enough – we live in a tiny rural community in Eastern Maine. How about secret mathematicians – undercover ones? She thought for a few more moments and thought maybe architects or engineers might use a lot of math. Yes! We were on to something. Did she know any women that were architects or engineers? Nope. None. A knot rose in my throat. I swallowed hard.

My daughter, a math and science whiz kid, could barely identify a career pathway in mathematics let alone women doing those jobs. She reminded me of myself at her age. I loved mathematics and science and had my heart set on becoming an engineer in our local paper mill, a thriving industry in rural Maine. When I visited the mill, however, I didn’t see any women. Not one. Now – of course, they were there. A few, maybe. Partnership for Rural Women in Math CareersBut I didn’t SEE them. Because of that, one more brick in the wall of barriers making it more and more difficult for me to reach my dream career had been cemented. After visiting the mill, I changed my dream of becoming an engineer and set off on another path. In retrospect, I was scared to be the one to trailblaze. I was already trailblazing by even considering college. There is only so much trailblazing a person could do. Or, so I told myself. But, today, in 2021 – I have come full circle.

How has nearly 25 years flown past, but progress only crept forward? How many young women from small towns and rural communities across the country have been close to pursuing science and engineering careers and stepped back – unsure of where or how they might fit? How might we change the view of young women today so the careers in mathematics and the women doing them come into focus?

-Rhonda Tate, Hancock County Maine

A Concerning Problem:

Young women from rural areas are not pursuing careers involving advanced mathematics, even though they are skilled and capable mathematicians, scientists, and engineers . 
  • Women constitute 47% of the overall workforce, but only 28% of the combined sciences & engineering workforce. 1
  • “Although rural students have been shown to perform on par with non-rural students on measures of math and scientific ability, rural students are typically limited in terms of access to advanced coursework.” 2

A Promising Future:

Systematically identifying and addressing barriers preventing young women from rural areas from viewing themselves as competent and skilled mathematicians can lead to a more diverse representation of perspectives, backgrounds, and approaches in careers involving advanced mathematics.  

What we’re doing:

We are convening a Research-to-Practice Partnership that is collaboratively identifying and beginning to address the barriers to participation for rural girls pursuing advanced mathematics.   The partnership includes:
  • young women in grades kindergarten through post-secondary from rural areas, 
  • parents, 
  • formal and informal educators, 
  • STEM professionals who use advanced mathematics, 
  • policy-makers, 
  • and STEM education researchers.

Throughout 2021, our group of partners will:

  1. Identify specific barriers that keep young women from participating in increasingly challenging mathematics activities and/or courses;
  2. Co-design research questions to investigate the identified problems of practice identified; 
  3. Identify common goals and metrics to advance toward those goals;
  4. Collaboratively develop an evidence-based reform initiative and strategic plan to address the challenge.  

If you are interested in finding out more about the project or participating in the conversation, please contact us.

Project Partners

Project Funder


This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, grant #2040921.  Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in these materials are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation

Project Staff

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