Students cross gender divides, break stereotypes

By Sara Garcia

Society is past the days when a room full of CEOs automatically assumes that a female walking in and wearing a business suit will be serving their coffee. Yet, despite all the progress women have made in the world of typically male-dominated fields, here on the University campus there are still many colleges and majors that are dominated by either men or women.

While males tend to dominate math- or science-related fields, such as physics or engineering, many female students in nursing and elementary education courses can count on their fingers the number of males in their classes.

Females may suffer some dissuasion from going into male-dominated fields, but it is now often seen as normal – even commendable – when females attempt to break the gender divide. Males often have their motives questioned when they attempt to do the same.

“I definitely think it’s weirder to see a guy as a nurse than a girl as an engineer,” said Mike Psaras, junior in LAS.

Erina Namihara, senior in nursing, said that males can bring a different dynamic to the field of nursing.

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“They obviously stand out, but I don’t know that that’s a negative thing,” Namihara said.

Matt Buckles, senior in nursing, said that after switching his major several times, he finally decided on nursing while shadowing a physician’s assistant as a kinesiology major.

“I decided to go into nursing because I really like patient care, and I want to help people,” said Buckles, who attends the Urbana-Champaign regional site of the nursing program through the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Buckles, who is a resident adviser in Forbes Hall, said that when he tells his residents he is a nursing major, many of the guys ask if they can call him ‘Focker,’ from the movie Meet the Parents. The movie stars Ben Stiller, who is teased for being a triage nurse in an emergency room – exactly what Buckles wants to do.

“I wish people could see what I’ve seen -that many male nurses are very masculine,” Buckles said. He said many good guys are afraid to look into nursing because of a stereotype that the field isn’t very masculine, but that he’s found excellent role models in male nurses at Provena Covenant Medical Center.

Buckles said while he has met many strong females, male nurses have an advantage – they often have stronger shoulders, which help them lift their patients more easily.

“I also like that I can connect with male patients on a guy to guy level,” Buckles said.

Kristin Bartelt, senior in education, said that there are many more female education majors because women are traditionally considered to be more nurturing.

Bartelt said she does not think that women are at an advantage in the field of education and believes men could do just as well if they wanted to.

“I also think it’s more of a money issue; traditional female professions often make less money, which makes them less appealing,” Bartelt said.

According to, a self-proclaimed “Career development and job-search advice for new college graduates” Web site, approximate starting salaries for elementary education teachers with bachelor’s degrees range from $27,000 to $34,500, while the starting salary for mechanical engineers with bachelor’s degrees range from $45,000 to $53,000.

Women in traditionally male professions noted that they do not have their motives questioned as often as men entering typical female professions. But, they also said that fact should not undermine the struggles both face being underrepresented in their respective fields.

“The thing that bothers me the most is that some people thought I got into the College of Engineering just because I’m a girl,” said Engy Abdel-Motaleb, a former engineering major.

She met all the posted minimum grade point average and ACT requirements for the College of Engineering. She transferred out of engineering last year but said that there are still many engineering students in her classes.

“Growing up, I didn’t sense a split between guys and girls – I noticed it when I got to college,” Abdel-Motaleb said. She also said that male engineering students often perform better than their female counterparts in engineering classes.

The number of females enrolled in the College of Engineering hasn’t gone up in the last 10 years. According to the College of Engineering Web site, the percentage of female first-year engineering students has actually gone down, from 19 percent in the 1993-1994 school year to 17 percent in the 2003-2004 school year. The number of fourth-year female students has remained the same at 15 percent.

Many students whose major traditionally belongs to the opposite gender said they encouraged other students to follow in their paths and to not be discouraged by negative stereotypes.