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How are you Engaging Girls in STEM?

By Norrell Edwards, CEI Intern. How are you addressing gender gaps in STEM classes at your school? Perhaps the first question is, have you been addressing this issue at all?

Nurturing Interest. As an educator, particularly for grades k-12, your STEMful influence on girls is crucial for nurturing a new generation of women in STEM careers.  Did you know that women make up an incredibly small percentage of engineers?  In each of the fields of civil, electrical/electronic, industrial and mechanical women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce.  In electrical and mechanical it is less than 10 percent!

Gender Disparity. Further statistics from the National Girls Collaborative Program tell us that within K-12 education males are six times more likely than girls to take an engineering class. It’s no wonder that we have so few women engineers.  However, the real gender disparity begins in college.  Girls have not been encouraged to pursue the sciences. Historically gender biases have occurred, and like other male-dominated professions, for many years the welcome mat was not out for women.  Thankfully we are in the midst of a dramatic change as many are realizing the important contributions women have made and can make in the future.

What can your school do to plant the seeds of STEM interest early? True to it’s title, the article  ‘Effective STEM programs for Adolescent Girls: Three Approaches and Many Lessons Learned,‘ published in the the After School Journal, highlights helpful methods for integrating girl-oriented STEM programs into schools.

  1. The Techbridge Afterschool Program, based in California, brings activities in engineering, sciences and technology to over 3,000 girls. One strategy to imitate is their use of role models, career exploration and field trips. Imagine as a young girl seeing for the first time ever a woman physicist or engine

  2. A program based in Queens, New York City: Access for Young Women uses a great interdisciplinary approach relying on social workers with STEM backgrounds to engage girls both through leadership and social aspects as well as STEM projects. They also promote conferences led by girls.

  3. From both Techbridge and Access for Young Women, we can tell that facilitators are incredibly important for motivating girls’ interest in STEM activities. For your future after school program, who in your community could facilitate an after school program? Depending on the complexity of the activities, it does not necessarily have to be someone with a degree in STEM. It could be people with other backgrounds as well. Techbridge frequently trains Girl Scout leaders to do easy STEM activities with troops. The brilliance of this initiative is their ‘ programs-in-a-box’ given to Girl Scout camp facilitators. Then, the facilitators can focus their time on implementation rather than researching and preparing activities. 

Community Involvement.  Who from your community is willing to help with a STEM in-school or afterschool program? One place to start is with a survey of your parents to find out about their backgrounds, interests, and resources that they might offer.  Some schools hold discussions at their PTA meetings or involve PTA officers in helping to find parent volunteers. Also consider the National Girls Collaborative Project for ideas and see what STEM programs already exist in your state and region.


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