“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…”
-President Barack Obama, March 23, 2015
“In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.4% of high school girls select computer science.”
Scientists, engineers, and innovators have played an integral part in the United States’ development as a global leader. It’s more important than ever for both young men and women to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math—the subjects collectively known as STEM.
President Obama has set a priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields. The Committee on STEM Education’s initiative is important for everyone, but may be an especially meaningful effort for the women already in these fields, and for the support provided to the younger girls who can look up to them.
Consider that while women make up 47% of the total U.S. workforce, they are still much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations, including:
27.9% of environmental scientists and geoscientists are women
15.6% of chemical engineers are women
12.1% of civil engineers are women
8.3% of electrical and electronics engineers are women
7.2% of mechanical engineers are women
Clearly, these disproportionate numbers can be traced back to education. For example, in the past decade, women have accounted for about 57% of enrollment at degree-granting institutions. Yet, when it comes to Bachelor’s degrees earned, female students account for just 18.2% of computer sciences, 19.2% in engineering (19.2%), and 19.1% in physics.
President Obama has articulated a clear priority for STEM education: within a decade, American students must “move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” The Obama Administration is also working toward the goal of fairness, where an equitable distribution of quality STEM learning opportunities and talented teachers can ensure that all students have the chance to study and be inspired to reach their full potential.
The Committee on STEM Education is facilitating a cohesive national strategy, with new and repurposed funds, to increase the impact of federal investments in improving STEM education, including a stronger effort five areas:
- Improving STEM instruction in preschool through 12th grade
- Increasing and sustaining public and youth engagement with STEM
- Improving the STEM experience for undergraduate students
- Better serving groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields
- Designing graduate education for tomorrow’s STEM workforce
In addition to the recent governmental steps taken to increase STEM fairness and awareness, several organizations have long been supporting such efforts, generating notable improvements, particularly when encouraging the girls and women in STEM fields. Check out the inspiration, support, and tools provided by the following groups:
Center for STEM Education for Girls
The Harpeth Hall School is transforming STEM educational opportunities through its Center for STEM Education for Girls. The organization aims to increase girls’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and math studies K-20, and to encourage them to aspire to STEM careers. The website offers links to a database of STEM summer opportunities for students, and resources for STEM teachers to use in their classrooms.
Association for Women in Science
Founded in 1971, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is the largest multi-disciplinary organization for women in STEM fields. The group is dedicated to driving excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. AWIS reaches more than 20,000 professionals in STEM with members, chapters, and affiliates worldwide. Membership is open to any individual who supports the vision and mission of AWIS.
Girls Who Code
This national nonprofit organization works to close the gender gap in the technology and engineering sectors. With support from public and private partners, Girls Who Code works to educate, inspire, and equip high school girls with the skills and resources to pursue opportunities in computing fields.
Launched in 2001, this site was designed to bring national attention to the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women. Through interviews from real engineers, girls can understand the specific duties of the profession, and that bridges the gap between simply having an interest in engineering to getting involved in opportunities and knowing what type of engineering to pursue. This support increases the likelihood of students turning a childhood interest into a career.
The National Girls Collaborative Project created FabFems as a one-stop shop for women in STEM careers. This national database compiles names and contact information of role models and women who want to offer education and STEM career advice. The group recognizes that many girls have these interests but haven’t had the chance to be connected to adults who exemplify the STEM career pathway.
It is increasingly important for us all to support girls’ career aspirations, especially in STEM fields. The resources and support to do so are more prevalent than ever before. We can all do our part in making the most of these, ensuring equality and encouragement, that will better serve us all.