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Saturday, September 30, 2023

Academics & Research

Bauer alumni scholarship directly excludes women

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When associate professor Mark Tomforde, faculty adviser for mathematics honor society Pi Mu Epsilon, was asked to nominate a student for a professional development scholarship, he realized he couldn’t suggest his first pick.

This is because the scholarship, The Gentleman Factory, is only intended for male students. Tomforde’s top picks were all women.

“It bothered me that if Pi Mu Epsilon wanted to participate in the scholarship, I would have to skip over all of those people to go to somebody that was less deserving, solely because of their sex,” Tomforde said.

Tomforde, along with PME student president Catherine Godfrey, reached out to Michelle Alvarez, one of the founders of the scholarship and a Bauer College Alumni Association Board Member, as well as Patrick Gonzales, President of the Bauer College Alumni Association, and Mike Pede, president and CEO of the UH Alumni Association, with an email expressing their concerns that the Gentleman Factory is discriminatory of women.

Their concerns were met with an additional email from Alvarez in which she essentially dismissed all of their claims.

“I felt that in the letter we sent, we were specific that we felt it was wrong,” Godfrey said. “It was frustrating because we felt like this is important, and because she’s a woman in business as well, I was hoping she would understand where we were coming from.”

Aside from the fact the scholarship, which aims to “award deserving students a new tailored suit, professional accessories, and access to advanced personal development workshops,” according to founder Jose Estrada, directly excludes women, Tomforde said his concerns also stem from women being severely underrepresented in STEM fields and business leadership positions.

“This sort of gender disparity should not be unfamiliar to those of you in the Bauer College or the business world,” Tomforde wrote in the letter to Alvarez. “As I’m sure you are aware, women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs in America, and yet they lag substantially behind men when it comes to their representation in leadership positions: They comprise only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.”

This is the first year The Gentleman Scholarship has been offered to students outside of the Bauer College. Estrada, a first-generation student and Bauer College alum, started the scholarship three years ago after deciding he wanted to help underprivileged students who did not have access to professional attire.

Estrada said he partnered with SuitMart, a men’s clothing store, and has not been able to find a women’s retail business that will donate to his cause because the program is not an official nonprofit.

“The program is funded from my network, so I have limited resources,” Estrada said in an email. “My hope is to be able to partner up with Macy’s and Dress for Success, a local nonprofit that provides a similar service exclusively for women, to provide TGF opportunities for women.”

Despite Estrada’s claim that he hopes to be able to incorporate women, as it stands now the scholarship still only caters to men in a field where women are poorly underrepresented due to discrimination, bias and lack of mentorship, Tomforde said.

The Bauer College Alumni Association should be aware that women are underrepresented in their own subject area,” Tomforde said. “It was just crazy to me that they had a scholarship that excluded a group that was in such need of encouragement.”

The second part of the scholarship includes a workshop were students learn about leadership qualities. When asked why that half of the scholarship cannot be opened up to women now, Estrada said he’d prefer to wait until he could offer women the entire scholarship and “do it right.”

“We definitely want to (offer the scholarship to women) in the future, and in the future the program might even take a different name because obviously the name, the Gentleman Factory, makes it clear the message is for gentlemen,” Estrada said. “When I (include women) I want to do it right for every single person and for every single student.”

Estrada said he is hopeful that the program will attain 501c3 nonprofit status by the end of the year and that one day he will be able to include women. Until then, it’s a boys-only game.

“This is another wonderful opportunity for growth and professional development that prevents half our population from participating,” Sarah Chehade, one of Tomforde’s top picks for the scholarship, said. “It’s not fair to me or to any females who have career and professional goals just like male students do.”

Two years ago, the National Science Foundation awarded UH a $3.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to do exactly what Tomforde said this scholarship hinders: increase women in STEM and leadership positions.

“This is one of the big missions of the University, yet the Bauer College Alumni Association has scholarships that are specifically not allowing women to participate? That makes absolutely no sense to me,” Tomforde said.

Despite Estrada’s claims that he and his network are doing all they can to eventually include women in the program, Tomforde’s top two picks for the scholarship — Chehade and Godfrey — say it’s not enough.

“Scholarships like these are kind of reinforcing the idea that math is just for men,” Godfrey said. “Honestly I think it is good that they are helping underprivileged students, but it is harmful to not include women.”

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