Young college woman studying

(WOMENSENEWS)–The bird and fish clocks on the walls of vacation cabins across the country are chirping and gurgling the inevitable news: Summer 2001 is drawing to a close, and it is time for Women’s Enews’ second annual, end-of-the-summer series. We have asked our leading writers to give us a status report on the state of being female.

Last summer, we reported on an extraordinary season of Supreme Court decisions, a special U.N. session and national political conventions.

This summer, starting Monday, Women’s Enews will distribute for the next five days stories on educational issues of concern to women–women not only as parents, citizens and observers, but also and primarily as students themselves.

Monday, our regular correspondent Laura Koss-Feder, expert on workplace and career issues, covers back-to-school with a twist: Moms and other adult women are returning to campuses in unprecedented numbers. They are knocking on the doors in such numbers that community colleges, four-year schools and major universities are developing special programs geared to returning women, setting aside financial aid and even adding evening day care.

When moms hit the books, they need to explain new arrangements to their families and enlist the support of family and friends. It’s important that children understand why moms–and they themselves–should value education. It’s also important that children learn to cook, clean, do laundry and be self-reliant as their mothers also learn new skills.

And while they are back in school, those adult students may well bump into the glass ceiling that still thwarts women’s academic careers. Science writer Martha Downs on Tuesday will examine the pledge of major research universities to identify the barriers to women’s academic success and begin to dismantle them. In January, MIT and eight other schools pledged they would systematically study and pursue gender equity. Two more schools have joined in. It’s too soon for a report card, but they get an “E” for effort. Stay tuned.

Girls’ Love of Bridges, Skyscrapers Must Be Inculcated Between 9 and 11

Wednesday, our regular commentary day, engineer Gina Ryan, executive director and chief executive officer of the Society of Women Engineers, sets forth the designs necessary to enlist more young women into the professions that structure much of our lives.

Bridges and skyscrapers, Ryan says, ought to be as exciting to girls as they are to boys, and she cites some resources to accomplish just that. She also says that what happens to girls in school and at home between the ages of 9 and 11–the critical window of encouragement–can determine whether they go into math, science and engineering. Eileen Collins, the first woman Space Shuttle commander, she recalls, was discouraged as an adolescent from getting into math and science. “Why,” Collins was asked and then told, “to succeed in life, a girl should be cute–not smart.”

On Thursday correspondent Sarah Stewart Taylor details how women are doing not only in engineering and science, but also in other professions, from architecture to veterinary medicine.

Some of the news is good, but women are still lagging behind in too many fields. Further, because women are stereotyped as nurturers who favor collective enterprise, they tend to be shunted into professional specialties like pediatrics or human resource management–not brain surgery or the CEO’s job.

More than half of all entering law school graduates this year are women–one of the bright spots in admissions to professional graduate programs. Law always has been an established avenue toward attainment of political position and other positions of power. The increasing representation of women bodes well for women, politics and power.

Women in Law: Changes in Culture of Politics and Power

Law scholars also say that the end of the all-male bastion means that law school courses–and their promotion of traditionally masculine legal culture–may give way to an approach that is less adversarial and increasingly emphasizes cooperation and the common search for elusive truth.

And, we cannot forget Title IX, mandating equal access for women in publicly funded education and sports, because of its impact not only on sports but upon education in general.

On Friday, Jessica McRorie, Women’s Enews’ intern from New York University’s graduate program in journalism, ends her summer with a bang. McRorie reports on a little-noted U.S. Supreme Court decision that stated that Title IX requirements on equal distribution of resources and opportunity apply to state athletic associations.

That decision will play a significant role in a class action in Michigan challenging alleged unequal treatment of female high school athletic teams. Moreover, McRorie reports, Title IX may often be ignored in other state high school athletic programs.

Read about that case on Friday and think about the battles we have won on behalf of all women and girls and the work that remains this autumn–and the many school years to come.

Rita Henley Jensen is editor in chief of Women’s Enews.