Monster Thinking

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February 2013

STEMconnector Jobs Report: Understanding STEM and Girls

This guest post is by Ann Millspaugh, online community manager at the EdLab Group. Prior to joining the EdLab Group, Ann was a project manager and analyst for initiatives advancing digital and educational equity. Her other work experience includes advocacy, training and conference presentation, and informal science education. It is difficult to ignore the ubiquitous requirement for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills needed to succeed in the workplace of today. Nearly 1.5 million computing jobs will be available in the next five years. In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM jobs, representing 1 in 18 workers. To maintain global competitiveness, the United States needs more students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. However, to interest the broadest audience in STEM subjects, we need educational environments that are relevant, honor different learning styles and preferences, and allow for different frames of reference. The solution does not lie within one curriculum or community, and there is not one single pathway for success. When reviewing the gender gap among STEM professionals, this becomes increasingly evident. Last week, STEMconnector released its report “Where are the STEM Students? What are their Career Interests? Where are the STEM Jobs?” and findings indicate girls’ interest in these fields continues to decline. It is critical that women are equally represented within these realms, yet this deficit is a pervasive issue that has yet to be remedied. The STEMconnector report identifies potential interest in STEM fields at the high school level. Among the highlights:
  • There has been a decrease among female interest in STEM careers over the past decade.
  • Females show the greatest interest in the sciences: basic science, marine biology, and mathematics/statistics.
  • Female students are over twice as likely to be interested in Environmental Science compared to their male counterparts.
  • Overall, student interest in STEM decreases as they advance through the school system.
The STEMconnector report provides a wealth of fascinating data; however, how will we use this data to ensure a more robust and diverse STEM educated workforce? Too often, for women and girls STEM becomes an either/or: either I’m a technology person or I’m not. Girls develop the perception that because they don’t dream about coding or want to eat, sleep, and breathe cracking algorithms – they should not pursue STEM fields. Somehow technology never enters into a realm of moderation; it’s a binary of hacking 24/7 or waiting in line for the Geek Squad. Science and technology fields are like any other career. There are people who are consumed, but there are also plenty of people who live a balanced life. There are many ways to dispel these stereotypes and engage girls in STEM. By focusing on research based strategies (a few outlined below), all stakeholders (industry leaders, educators, administrators, and parents) can lay the foundation for a more inclusive STEM environment.
  • Collaboration. There are endless initiatives and programs working to inspire girls in STEM. It is critical to facilitate collaboration among these existing programs to reduce duplicated resources and efforts. The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) encourages existing programs to work together to provide high quality programming. Through professional development events and funding opportunities, programs realize that collaboration often yields the results they are striving to accomplish.
  • Gender-neutral STEM education. It is important to utilize strategies that work to engage girls (and boys!) in STEM education. SciGirls offers seven insightful strategies that are based on research and work in both formal and informal educational environments. Learn more here.
  • Role Models. Role models highlight personal stories and career pathways, helping to broaden participation and retention of females in STEM careers. Resources such as FabFems and Techbridge provide best practices to establish and develop these relationships.
While gender emphasis is necessary, it is also important to maintain a holistic outlook on the incentives to pursue STEM careers. Fundamentally, people want the same things they have wanted for hundreds of years – to communicate, connect, and understand the world around them. Technology enables this to happen at an increasingly accelerated rate, but if more youth knew they could also create technology that could help solve some of the toughest challenges facing the world today; more may be drawn to these fields. Together we can create a culture that drives girls and other underrepresented groups to participate in STEM fields. We need a highly skilled workforce of creative, innovative leaders to meet the complex problems and challenges of the changing world today.
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