Girls in STEM: A Personal Perspective
As a science teacher, I love to encourage all my students to pursue their interests and expose them to career opportunities that they may never have considered, including STEM careers. As a female science teacher, I especially want to highlight to my female students that STEM careers are for everyone and dispel any misconceptions they may have about the field.
While male and female students perform typically the same in science and mathematics classes, females are underrepresented in computer science and engineering classes. As these students continue into the workforce, women make up 47 percent of the total workforce, but only 24 percent of STEM jobs are represented by women. So, why such a difference? Why are women not choosing STEM careers? I may not know all the answers, but here is my personal perspective on the topic.
People need to see themselves reflected in careers they are drawn toward. In elementary school, I wanted to be an astronaut after watching Sally Ride and Christa McAuliffe. In high school, I learned about Jane Goodall and Rachel Carson and became interested in conservation and environmental education. In college, I took a class called “Deep Sea Sharks and Sea Monsters” by Dr. Eugenie Clark. She was known as the “Shark Lady” and was a pioneer in the field of shark research. I sat in awe as she described swimming with whale sharks, and I thought, “I want to do that someday!” Without these women pioneers, I would not be the biology teacher I am today.
We all need role models, and it is helpful that some of these role models reflect our own experiences, so we can say, “Hey, I can do that too!” While there are already many fantastic women in STEM careers, we need to hear their stories. We need to learn about their interests and how they navigated their path. We need them to answer questions like: What inspired you to choose your career? What were your biggest obstacles? What advice do you have to give the next generation?
Helping students see the variety in STEM careers is very important. Many people have the misconception that a STEM career will involve sitting at a desk and writing code all day. We need to highlight the aspects of the field that many people overlook, such as creativity, problem-solving and being part of a collaborative team working toward a common goal. STEM is not just for engineering and computer science class and can easily be integrated in multiple subjects — not just science and math, either. STEM has a role in sports, theater, music, social studies and language arts. Check out STEM Behind Cool Careers for ideas to get your students to think about STEM’s role, including high fashion and art.
Many women may not choose STEM careers because they see these misconceptions, or they don’t see how STEM can relate to their own interests. My goal as a teacher will be to help the next generation find their passions and hopefully expose them to the STEM skills they need to be successful members of the 21st century workforce.
If you can integrate STEM concepts into problems your students are passionate about, where they feel they are part of the solution, you can inspire them to change the world.
1 National Girls Collaborative Project. “Statistics.”
2 U.S. Department of Commerce. “Women in STEM: 2017 Update.”