Programs Help Girls Develop STEM Interest

Connexeo - 09/17/2018

The fact that women are underrepresented in STEM jobs is undeniable.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s chief economist found that women comprised only 24% of the STEM workforce in the nation, as compared to 47% of the overall national workforce. Females, while more than half of the United States’ college-educated workers, made up just one-quarter of STEM workers with at least a bachelor’s degree.

This correlates directly to two other statistics: Women are collecting 35.1% of the bachelor’s degrees in all STEM fields, 32.7% of STEM master’s degrees and 34.4% of STEM Ph.D.s, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Also, almost one-third of women in U.S. science, engineering and technology jobs plan to leave those jobs within one year, according to a Center for Talent Innovation study.

STEM as a male-dominated field is nothing new. The shortage of women in science- and technology-related industries has been discussed ad infinitum for several years. But with the theory we can pique girls’ interest in STEM subjects through K-12 and community programs, organizations are stepping up to generate programs geared specifically toward girls and STEM that help make science and technology fun and compelling.

Girlstart: Girl’s in STEM

For example, Girlstart, an organization “empowering girls in science, technology, engineering and math,” had its first Girls in STEM conference for fourth- through eighth-grade girls in March in Austin. It is conducting another one, this one just for fourth- and fifth-graders, on Sept. 22 in Houston.

These Saturday, all-day sessions comprise three hands-on workshops that emphasize the fun side of STEM, according to the Girlstart website. Woman professionals in STEM fields lead these workshops.

Participants, according to a Houston Chronicle article, will make bracelets that spell out their birthdays in binary language – which doubles as a lesson in computer science and software engineering.

Workshops such as those at Girls in STEM confirm a Microsoft study that discovered, as a Forbes report states, “while girls and young women have ambitions to embrace careers that are creative and help the world, they haven't been presented with examples that help to contextualize STEM opportunities within their interests and experiences.”

Microsoft’s study found that 75% of girls who participate in hands-on STEM activities outside the classroom feel a sense of empowerment, compared to only 50% of girls whose only STEM exposure is in class. Meanwhile, only 60% of girls understand how STEM subjects are relevant for their personal and professional pursuits.

Rod Berger, the author of the Forbes piece, who is an education industry strategist and the author of two books on equity in education, wrote that, “Purposeful and continuous examination of the role STEM plays in the development of diversity-rich curriculum and hands-on experiences for girls and young women enhances the outlook for STEM fields…The time is now to craft a STEM message inclusive of real-world opportunities ripe with creativity, social responsibility, and purpose supported by parents, community organizers, and the private sector.”

Green Girls

One program doing just that is Green Girls, which is run by the New York City Parks Foundation, a community organization. A five-week program that runs year-round, summer participants investigate the urban forest, while those involved in fall, winter and spring focus on drinking water, according to a Mashable article.

Many of the Green Girls participants are African American or Latina, which addresses another STEM shortfall. Program organizers seek women of color as organizers and encourage participants entering high school to sign up as interns. As the Mashable article says, the program “hopes to create a network of women that can help each other in each stage of their STEM career.”

Green Girls, Girls in STEM and other programs also work to counter stereotypes that girls aren’t as scientifically and mathematically inclined as boys. International studies have found that girls do better in class but boys get better test scores, according to an article in The Guardian. In math, the studies found, girls were more anxious, which could have skewed test scores.

For some reason, perhaps ingrained stereotypes, girls feel less self-confidence when it comes to STEM subjects and feel they don’t belong, the article stated. They feel more comfortable in HEED (health, elementary education and domestic) subjects, although neither stereotype accounts for the growing influence of women in business.

“For girls self-conscious about their intelligence, a failure on a test can feel like proof that they aren’t smart enough, but at Green Girls, failure is seen as an opportunity to learn,” the Mashable article stated. “When a girl makes a mistake, it’s often another participant who helps her address it.”

That’s how to build self-confidence and let girls find out how to do things themselves. And what’s needed to build girls’ interest in STEM careers.

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