Simple solutions to encourage more girls to pursue STEM education

girls-STEMWomen today make up a large percentage of the work force, and are employed in almost half of the jobs in the United States.

But despite that, according to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and STEMConnector, fewer than 25 percent of females work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, where employment opportunities are growing rapidly.

To bring awareness to this issue, STEMconnector, which works with corporations and other organizations to provide tools and resources to promote STEM education, initiated the Million Women Mentors campaign. The campaign brings together corporations, nonprofit organizations, government entities, and education groups to inspire young women and show them the possibilities of STEM careers.

(Next page: How can schools stimulate STEM interest?)

According to STEMconnector, of the 75 percent of college students who are women and students of color, just 45 percent graduate with STEM degrees each year. The organization also states that the wage gap in STEM fields is 92 cents on the dollar, compared with 75 cents in other fields, and women who work in STEM earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs.

One reason STEMconnector is making the push for the Million Women Mentors program is because many girls who are interested in STEM careers, along with women who work in the field, feel isolated from their peers. The mentorship program is meant to instill confidence in young women by connecting them with other women who have taken the STEM path and succeeded–in essence, giving girls a role model.

STEM promotion starts in school. However, according to STEMconnector, 50 percent of schools in the U.S. do not have a focused STEM program, half of schools do not offer calculus, and 37 percent do not offer physics. Additionally, in 36 out of 50 states, computer science is not encouraged.

So what can schools do to stimulate STEM interests? STEMconnector and TCS highlight five programs for middle and high school students that encourage STEM learning.

Tech Trek

This week-long summer camp for rising eighth grade girls allows students to see the possibilities of STEM careers whether as future scientists, engineers, mathematicians or computer specialists.

In 2013 the Tech Trek camp was hosted in Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Washington. Girls built and programmed their own robots, extracted their own DNA, and learned how computer simulations are used to predict weather patterns. This year, camps will also be held in Alabama, New Mexico, and Oregon. Tech Trek is hosted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which promotes equity and education for women.

Expanding Your Horizons Network Programs

Expanding Your Horizons Network, an advocacy group for women in STEM careers, holds conferences around the country that allow young girls to participate in hands-on activities led by women who have STEM jobs. The activities give girls an idea of what they would do if they worked in the field. The events not only provide the opportunity to interact with female professionals in the field, but also link girls with other girls their age who share their interests.

Girls Dig it

Part of the Girls Inc. OPERATION SMART program that aims to encourage girls’ interests and enthusiasm in STEM, Girls Dig It is offered to girls ages 12-14. The goal of the program is to build on girls’ analytical and interpretive skills by teaming them up with real-life archaeologists to make new discoveries on a dig of their own.

Coastal Studies for Girls

This is a semester-long science and leadership school in Maine offered to 10th grade girls. Students study an intensive science-based curriculum that gives students the opportunity to interact directly with scientists and guest lecturers. The school creates a strong sense of community among the girls and faculty and empowers girls to continue to pursue STEM education and careers.

SciGirls

Originally a PBS show that featured real middle school girls practicing STEM skills in their everyday activities, SciGirls has now become a brand that provides online resources, videos, hands-on activities, and professional development to inspire women to participate in STEM learning and pursue STEM careers.

STEMconnector and TCS also suggest bringing STEM learning into a real-world platform through hands-on activities that show students what people in the STEM field use science, technology, engineering, and math to do. For example, students could learn that engineers apply their skills and knowledge to design roller coasters.

Computer sciences, energy, and healthcare are three examples of industries that are rapidly growing but still predominantly male dominated. With more anticipated job opportunities in the coming years, promoting STEM education in women and investing in mentorship programs is crucial in closing the diversity gap.

Watch this clip of The Big Bang Theory television star Mayim Bialik encouraging women to pursue STEM careers.

Sydney Mineer is an editorial intern at eSchool News.