Making STEM Appealing to Woman


Posted By: John Freeman 1 Comment
For most people, the words "computer programmer" inevitably calls to mind a certain type of person: someone tech-savvy, perhaps wearing glasses, and pale from spending too many hours in front of a computer screen. And for most people, that image is almost always male. This simple exercise illuminates one of the problems that STEM education seeks to overcome. More females now earn college diplomas than males; they also make up more than half the population and comprise almost half of the workforce. Despite these numbers, females are significantly less likely to pursue a career in computer science than their male counterparts. According to a 2013 report by the United States Census Bureau, only 27 percent of the workers in the computer science field are women. Similar statistics can be found in numerous other STEM fields, and these numbers continue to shrink. This is problematic because approximately 1 in 20 jobs in the modern workforce are in one of the STEM fields. The STEM education pipeline is failing women - a failure that will inevitably have a negative impact on the economy and future workforce. Many policymakers, educators, parents, and other interested individuals from across the country have recognized this problem, and they are now taking steps to ensure that women will have an equal role with men in America's future STEM workforce.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a key leader in pushing the discussion about women's roles in STEM and STEM education. This past December she put forward the STEM Gateways Act, a law that would allow for grants to schools and colleges that establish programs to help ensure STEM success for traditionally underrepresented groups. During March's National Women's History Month events, Senator Gillibrand has consistently called for a larger role for women in the sciences. She has also repeatedly spoken of the need for more focus on the needs of women in STEM education. In a recent editorial she stated, "My hope is that in the future, women stop referring to themselves as 'the only woman' in their physics lab or only one of two in their computer science jobs." But the problem can't be solved by legislative action alone. Federal and state governments can work to make STEM education more appealing to girls and women, but they cannot force females to choose it as a career path. Instead, all that government measures can do is provide a favorable environment in which a love for STEM can grow.

Organizations that have an interest in providing girls access to STEM education on an equal basis with their male peers can help. Some of these organizations, such as Million Women Mentors, provide students with experienced mentors who offer assistance and guidance throughout a woman's education and early professional life. Others, like Girls Who Code, focus on providing students with direct skills and empowering them to advance themselves in the educational and professional marketplaces. Still others offer co-ed opportunities for learning that effectively promote female involvement. iDTech, a program that offers STEM education summer programs for children ages 7-17, is offering 100 scholarships for girls interested in STEM to promote their interest in STEM education. These organizations and others like them are combining with government leadership to help pave the way for greater involvement of women in STEM.

Perhaps the worst thing that can be said to any student is that a subject that they love to study is not for them. Computers, math, science, and sports are not exclusively for boys, just as music, art, and literature are not only for girls. Every student is unique, and their interests and passions deserve to be promoted regardless of sex.

Some may say that this emphasis on STEM overshadows the humanities and the arts and is belittling to those interested in such subjects. Such sentiments fail to see the bigger picture. The values learned in the STEM classroom have applications far beyond its walls. Skills such as setting goals, drawing conclusions, summarizing data, finding information, visualizing, and writing explanations are all core skills that transcend any one particular discipline. Thus, while a student may end up as a writer, businessperson, or graphic designer, the skills learned from STEM education will prove vital to their daily professional lives. A STEM education greatly widens a girl's possible career paths. Girls have too long been deprived of these learning opportunities because the STEM subjects were not for "people like them." But the truth is that STEM can be a fulfilling and successful education and career for anyone.

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