Education Wednesday: Preparing Girls to Lead in STEM

Pioneers such as Ellen Ochoa, who became the first Latina astronaut in 1991, set the bar high for all that women can achieve in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Grooming more girls to follow in these footsteps is now more important than ever, particularly as America‘s economy continues to become more STEM-focused. This March (and all through the year) we can celebrate Women’s History Month by mentoring our niñas to be the future leaders of innovation.

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Ellen Ochoa at NASA training facility. Courtesy: Zerognew.com

It is now estimated that job growth in STEM fields will outpace growth in all other fields by 2018. Women, however, continue to lag behind their male counterparts in terms of entrance into these areas. A report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce found that women have not seen employment growth in STEM jobs since 2000. Even more disheartening, only 13% of girls currently plan to work in STEM-related careers.

Positively transforming these trends starts with changing mindsets about who belongs in STEM. While many girls show interest in science and math, often this does not translate into career aspirations due to gendered notions that “these are boys jobs.” Recognizing that we as a nation are missing an important opportunity, initiatives such as  Million Women Mentors are emerging to show girls they too can be engineers, coders, doctors, and work in other STEM professions. Beyond encouraging more girls to take advantage of the many resources now available to increase diversity in STEM, we must also provide guidance that boosts their confidence to be leaders in these fields.

Aundrea’s Tips for Preparing Girls for STEM Careers

  1. Participate in STEM-focused extracurriculars: Beyond chess club and debate team, many schools now offer STEM-focused extracurricular such as robotics teams. As retention of girls remains low in these in-school activities, we must encourage more girls to take up these pastimes and spark interest early in STEM. Much as I mention in Education Wednesday: Community STEM Programs for Girlsafter-school and community-based programs such as ThinkersmithGirls Who Code, and Girlstart can bridge hands-on fun with advanced learning and skill development. 
  2. Attend Pre-college Summer Camps: Much like advance placement (AP) classes, pre-college summer camps are a vital way to get a head start on college course work. I was tipped off to the relevance of these camps after speaking with a younger cousin who has been accepted into a pre-engineering program at the University of Alabama. Now a sophomore in high school, my cousin beamed as he informed me about the 2 month intensive program he will attend this summer. Not only do pre-college programs provide students the opportunity to experience “college life” ahead of time, they also allow students to earn early college credit in rigorous courses.

  3. Find a ‘STEM Sponsor’: Often finding a job is about who you know in addition to what you know. It is important to link girls who express interest in these areas with a STEM professional who can share resources and knowledge about how to access desired careers. Even if you are not in a STEM profession yourself, tap your network to find someone who can write a college recommendation or job referral to help students get their foot in the door.

For more tips to help your student foster a love of STEM, check out my discussion in Education Wednesday: Why You Should Know More About STEM.

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Girl studying biology. Courtesy: UMass.edu

In a recent Huffington post Op-ed, a 16 year old African-American student discusses why she was drawn to STEM, and why she hopes more minorities will take interest:

“I can confidently say exploring STEM is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I do not want my fellow classmates, who are mostly minorities, to view STEM as having too many barriers for success. I want them to see and use STEM as a vessel to make their contributions to our world.”

These words must resonate with us all as we encourage more girls of color to become leaders in STEM. For the sake of our students’ and our economy’s future prosperity, we cannot miss opportunities to expose them to the possibilities of all that they can accomplish. We must continue to share guidance and ensure our girls that a thriving career in STEM is absolutely attainable if they study hard enough and stay committed to their goals.

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An education policy wonk at the Georgia Center of Opportunity, Aundrea Gregg holds a Master’s degree in Social Policy and Planning from the London School Of Economics and a Bachelor’s in Classical Civilizations and Political Science from Howard University. She also is a nail painting enthusiast and writer living in Atlanta, GA. Connect with Aundrea on Twitter or Google+.

Which Women in STEM inspire you?

 

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