Keeping Girls Interested in STEM

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When I was a freshman in high school, I took a class where I could make my own website because I thought it would be fun. I knew nothing about coding, which wasn’t important because it wasn’t a coding class. We used a program that allowed us to drag and drop to create our website. But for the next three years of high school, I did nothing else with computers or web development. In college, where I had to take a basic coding class for my major in business, I learned about coding. I became fascinated by it. By the time I got interested, I was too far along in my marketing program to add another major. That is when I decided to make web development into a second minor, along with Psychology. After that, I took as many different coding classes as my schedule could handle. Along with HTML, I learned PHP, CSS, SQL, some AJAX, and became certified in JavaScript. I didn’t know what a career in coding looked like. But I wished that I had been educated about technology and coding careers.

When I looked around in my coding classes, the majority of my classmates were male. Yet two coding classes that overlapped with graphic design had a balance of men and women. At that time, I didn’t know about the STEM gender gap. I chalked it up to coding being new and different languages that women weren’t as interested as men in learning. But after graduating, I started to hear more about gender gap in STEM subjects.

I was curious to understand more about the gender inequality, so I started to dig. And what I found is fascinating. Girls are interested in STEM subjects around the age of 11 but then lose interest at around 15. There is a catch-22 for young girls thinking about STEM professions. If they decide to pursue STEM, they will likely be perceived as performing like men. But if they decide against STEM, they will be seen as conforming with social stereotypes. Social expectations and a lack of women STEM role models push girls away from STEM fields. What girls need - before they enter high school - is to see posters of successful STEM women. They need to read about these women in their textbooks. STEM women need to visit middle schools to show girls what they could be missing out on. Like boys, girls need a road map. Girls will be discouraged from following a STEM path if they don't know what paths they can take. Educating middle school girls about STEM professions will help to close the gender gap in STEM.

In school, we read about George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Dante Alighieri, and Socrates. But teachers never even mention Marie Curie, Donna Strickland, Kathleen McNulty, or Ada Lovelace. Nobody teaches us about the women, along with the men, who made math and science subjects what they are today. If the first time a student sees “coding” is in a college brochure, she may be disinterested because she doesn’t know anything about it.

Young girls look up to role models and try to be like them. From wearing makeup like them to trying to wear high heels like them. Young girls would also want to mimic STEM women if they saw more of them. Let’s get more STEM women in our middle schools to show young girls that Women’s History Month is not a thing of the past. It’s ongoing! Let’s teach the next generation of young girls that their names could be among the innovators of tomorrow!

Send me stories of badass STEM women who inspire!