The Power of the Next Generation of Girls in STEM
The world is beginning to grow to recognize the obvious minority of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. However, as a society we fail to provide sufficient support for young, intelligent ladies as they move away from academic institutions into the world of a working woman. Girls and boys show equal interest and science ability in elementary school; however, as they age the numbers diverge and women eventually represent around 20% of STEM careers. This reasoning begs the question: How do we keep women in STEM fields?
Women will face multiple obstacles but the most prominent is cultural perceptions of what a “scientist” should be. "Stereotypically", a nerdy guy in a lab coat or a crazy man with poofy white hair will fill this role in the media. One episode of “Big Bang Theory” or a quick watch of “Back to the Future” will give anyone a good idea of what our society deems appropriate for scientific look and personality. It’s up to us to empower the next generation to overcome these mental barriers. All children should be introduced to representations of diversity in any career. My sister, Delaney, and I approached this issue head-on with our club G.E.M.S. or “Girls Empowered by Math & Science”. Every other week, we present 3rd through 5th grade girls with a historic, influential, or modern woman in STEM. We emphasize the similarities these women have with the youthful girls around us. My favorite example is Ada Lovelace. She’s credited as the world’s first computer programmer and her work is valuable in developing technology today. However, she is always depicted in fashions fit for a princess. Her ball gowns and jewelry didn’t stop her from entering a field where women were totally shut out. Often, women in STEM feel as if they must give up their femininity to match the world’s mold for academics. We must end the idea that girls can’t be “girly” and smart. This reinforces the importance of exposing kids to female mentors.
After discussing our mentor’s influence, we form teams and complete an exciting scientific project with teenage girls from our high school based club. Some past projects were slime, bath bombs, and even robot coding! The teenagers are trained to provoke positive, collaborative discussion, and encourage creative thinking. The mentorship the teenagers provide is the most valuable part of the entire equation. These still young, smart high-schoolers are the link between primary education and adulthood. As a ten-year-old girl, to see someone only a few years older than yourself active and involved in science is extremely empowering. My message to fellow teenage girls is to motivate and inspire those younger than you. Never doubt the power and influence you can have on the girls of the future. Harness their ability and inspire them to pursue STEM careers. Perhaps their image of “scientist” will be the face of a female high school student who helped them create glitter slime or even launch a balloon rocket.