Science and Math Seek Female Touch

Why are girls failing to pursue an interest in science and math?

Universities and high schools fail to enroll an equal ratio of female to male students in science and other technology-related fields of study. The courses exist, and the opportunities to enter them are equal. Still, not as many women pursue careers associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (known collectively as STEM). Gender equality seems to be at the forefront of our society's initiatives; we constantly tell children they can be anything they can dream; for some reason, though, many girls' dreams don't include STEM careers.

Parents may be unintentionally discouraging their girls from an interest in science. How often are girls told not to get dirty? Are boys told this as often? When repairs need to be made in the garage, who frequently lends a hand? The son or the daughter? The nitty-gritty of the world around us offers countless opportunities for applying science and math skills. Making these discoveries part of the girls' formative years may cultivate an interest in studying science and math.

Of course, the guiding hand of a parent is not the only force pushing a child. Outside influences may be the stronger force. One of the problems may be in girls' perception of who is "supposed" to be in a STEM career. Who is on television and in textbooks? Men are predominately featured by these highly accessible influences. While there are women with STEM careers, how often are they brought to girls' attention?

Communities across the United States are beginning to build more programs specifically for female students. Investing in this endeavor is difficult, and it often starts with a highly-motivated individual finding the resources—money, manpower, facilities—and developing a plan. The work of the following organizations gives great insight as to what may help interest girls in STEM studies. Common threads are found: each uses hands-on activities, and each incorporates female STEM professionals.

Expanding Your Horizons Network

Thirty-one states hold STEM conferences for female students sponsored by this network. At an Expanding Your Horizons conference, girls participate in hands-on activities, all focused on STEM. Besides learning new skills and applying those they have previously practiced or mastered, the girls meet with individuals who have careers related to STEM. The conference aims to introduce girls to numerous STEM careers while improving their skills in critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration. Donors contribute to Expanding Your Horizons Network to make the conferences possible. (Sometimes, registration fees are required for conferences.) Equally important are the STEM professionals, teachers, and other adults who volunteer their time and expertise.

Girl Tech Power

In 2015, AT&T awarded a $20,000 grant to the University of San Francisco, which was used to expand their Girl Tech Power program to serve female high school students in addition to the program's traditional middle school enrollees. While a part of Girl Tech Power, students spend a few days on campus learning how to build apps, use program language, and discuss STEM careers with women in the field. Sometimes, field trips are part of the schedule. Past trips have even toured Twitter. Not only can girls find inspiration at this camp, but they can also experience a sliver of college life while there. Programs are instructed by professors and students of the University of San Francisco.

Girls & Science

On March 5, 2016, The Denver Museum of Nature & Science will hold the event for Girls and Science to inspire youngsters' interest in STEM. While visiting "Science Clubhouses" throughout the museum, women scientists will interact with visitors to educate them about what their career entails. Children will be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities that are meant to show them the career opportunities that will be possible for their futures.

Girls 4 Science

Started by a mother who couldn't find a community-based program for her science-minded daughter, Girls 4 Science now serves hundreds of girls in the Chicago area. This non-profit exposes girls to STEM in many of the same ways mentioned previously; however, there is one key difference. With three locations in and around Chicago, the organization is able to bring students to the city's museums. Girls 4 Science provides girls with on-going mentorship from STEM professionals and college students. This is an organization that recognizes girls' needs for friendship, collaboration, and a safe environment. Scholarships for continuing education are also awarded to students who meet eligibility requirements, which include completion of multiple Girls 4 Science courses.