Birmingham's efforts have included events such as CSUCI's annual Science Carnival, which engages elementary and middle school students in STEM education through fun, free, science-oriented activities. In addition, in her role at Project ACCESO, she develops after-school programs for kindergarteners through college-age students to help interest them in science, math, technology and related careers. She also coaches students at CSUCI in creating and executing project-oriented lessons, oversees programs for mentoring students interested in STEM, organizes science-related events at schools and in communities, and partners with schools and employers in the region to promote interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, among young people, especially girls.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Economic and Statistics Administration show that women hold only 24 percent of jobs in STEM-related fields in the United States, despite making up approximately 48 percent of the American workforce. Birmingham and her fellow Leading Women are trying to change that by promoting activities that engage young women in mathematics, technology and science, so they will be inspired to pursue STEM-related careers. They are fighting an uphill battle in a society that has long channeled girls toward lower paying careers such as teaching and nursing and away from STEM education.
Even with the advances that have been made in recent years and the emergence of modern role models such as astronaut Sally Ride, women continue to be under-represented in STEM fields in the United States. Although they obtain college and postgraduate degrees at a higher rate than men, women have not been entering the well-paying STEM fields at a pace that would help them close the significant earnings gap that still exists between women and men. Along with the United States' continued decline among developed nations in educating people prepared for STEM careers, this is a major reason to support efforts to interest and encourage students of all ages to follow educational paths that will lead to good careers.
The question of why so few young Americans, and girls in particular, are pursuing careers in science and technology-oriented fields has plagued researchers for some time. Some reports cite a lack of role models. As Facebook engineer Jocelyn Goldfein explained to the Associated Press, the reason there are so few female computer scientists is that there are so few female computer scientists. In other words, when girls don't see role models in a field, they tend not to pursue that field. American society's stereotyping of science and technology professionals as being "geeky" and of advanced math and science as subjects "for boys" is also partly to blame.
The efforts of leaders such as Birmingham can help turn the tide by showing both boys and girls that science is fun and fascinating. As more young Americans enter STEM education fields, there will be more role models for both boys and girls, and perhaps the United States can regain its place in the world as a leader in science and technology.