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Girls and Women in STEM

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“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

— First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011

While First Lady Obama is perhaps best known for her work to combat childhood obesity, her work to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for children (and especially for girls) has also been—thankfully—substantial and groundbreaking as well. Improved STEM education is one of the clearest paths to a better future for our world and our children as technological and scientific innovations in medicine, climate change, and energy grow more complex by the day.

STEM education is an investment in everyone’s future.

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According to The Department of Commerce’s (2011) Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, “though they represent a mere 24 percent of the STEM workforce, women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in these high-growth fields.” However, even with this boon for entering the STEM fields, and even though “women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, [they] make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty
in those fields.

Despite this inequality and despite the rampant sexism that is often reported by women studying and working in STEM fields, there are many significant positive steps being taken to encourage and promote more girls and young women to pursue the sciences in their education and careers.

For example, the Department of Education has recently created an “Invest in Innovation” fund that

provides competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement. The program’s selection criteria prioritizes schools that support women and girls in STEM, emphasizing the need to increase the number of women and girls teaching and studying STEM subjects, and ensuring that both educators and students receive access to rigorous and engaging coursework, high-quality academic preparation, and opportunities for professional development.”

Moreover, NASA has recently gotten in on the game by teaming up with the Girl Scouts of the U.S. to develop a memorandum of understanding uniting the organizations “to achieve common goals: motivating and encouraging girls to do their best.” NASA was present at the Girl Scout’s annual convention and thus created an “opportunity for 17,000 leaders and girls to experience fun, hands-on NASA STEM activities….

In other words, the government is trying to think outside the box for getting young girls more involved and interested in STEM today. But it’s not only the government that’s interested in mining this “new” vein of gold in the American mountain; clubs and organizations are popping up all over the place aimed at supporting young girls’ interests in STEM fields.

Take Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project, for example. The Kentucky Girls Project, led by the University of Kentucky, is focused on “informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics…to build a strong, diverse workforce in Kentucky.” Many other states have similar collaboratives supported by various high education institutions including Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, New Mexico, and others.

And even our local Texas schools like Lovejoy (Lucas, TX) have started including STEM courses in their elective rotation to support and deepen students’ interest and access to the sciences. Lovejoy now offers several agricultural elective courses to their ninth graders as well as an optional introductory course to design and robotics. Similarly, Ford Middle School (Allen, TX) has begun offering “Career Portals in STEM” as an elective course designed to introduce students to the careers of science and engineering. Of course, given that students begin engaging in the Science Fair as early as 6th grade (in TX) and that children of all ages are often naturally drawn to the splendor and wilds of science, these STEM courses and options ought to be made available to students much earlier.

If you’re a parent, mentor, or student looking to get yourself or someone close to you more involved in STEM fields, here are a few terrific ideas and resources to consider:

 

 

 

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