Analyzing the importance of girls in STEM
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Women in science and mathematics careers are generally underrepresented. Studies have been conducted to show the number of women studying in a STEM field decreases as women move on to higher education. In elementary, middle, and even high school, the interest and enrollment levels in science and math courses for girls and boys is equal. However as students advance to higher education, the gap between males and females in STEM fields increases, and STEM careers show the most significant differences. Because of this, it’s important to instill confidence in young girls to cultivate their interest in STEM fields, as well as help maintain that confidence as girls grow up and advance through their education.
One girl who’s interested in tackling a career in a STEM field is Emily Beynon. A current senior at North Penn, Beynon is planning on pursuing a chemistry major after graduating. In her math and science classes, she has noticed that there are generally more males than females. She also feels as if some issues in her classes are more of an individual problem instead of a gender one.
“I noticed that more guys tend to be less self aware of the way they act. For instance, they tend to act like they are better at the math or concepts then the girls in my classes, but that’s only a small amount, and I think that speaks more about the individual than the whole” said Beynon.
Another senior at North Penn is Ally McFarland who is interested in studying engineering.
“The only gap I’ve ever felt during science labs or activities is when the teacher will give more attention to the boys when they need help. Another thing is that when I told one of my friends that I had been accepted into Purdue’s engineering program, he claimed that the only reason I got in was because I am a girl,” noted McFarland on gender disparities she observes in her science classes.
Studies done by STEMconnector & My College Options. (2013). Where are the STEM Students? What are their Career Interests? Where are the STEM Jobs? and Educational Research Center of America (2016). STEM Classroom to Career: Opportunities to Close the Gap show that between the grades of kindergarten and twelfth, there are no notable differences between girls and boys in their mathematics and scientific abilities, but there are differences in their interest levels and confidence in the subjects.
At the undergraduate level is where differences begin to emerge in the rates of enrollment in STEM classes. The National Science Board. 2016. Science and Engineering Indicators 2016. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (NSB-2016-1) states that women earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees in all fields, and 50% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering. Within STEM subjects, men and women gravitate toward different fields. Men earn bachelor’s degrees in engineering at a rate of 81% compared to women who earn them at a rate of 19%, men earn degrees in computer sciences at a rate of 82% compared to the 18% rate earned by women, and men earn degrees in physics at a rate of 61% while women earn them at a rate of 39%.
Although significant progress has been made in representation for women in the STEM workforce, women remain underrepresented with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering and computer sciences. According to the National Science Board. 2016. Science and Engineering Indicators 2016. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (NSB-2016-1) women make up 50% of the overall workforce, and 28% of the STEM workforce. The 28% of females in the STEM workforce are focused in different careers than men. A relatively high amount of women are concentrated in the social sciences with 62%, and in the biological and life sciences with 48%. A relatively low amount are concentrated in computer and mathematical sciences with 25%, and in engineering with 15%.
Within STEM careers, even greater disparities occur with minority women. Minority women make up 16% of the population, but earn 3% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, 5% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, and 7% of bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences according to National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2015) and Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2015. Special Report NSF 15-311. Arlington, VA. The National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2015). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2015. Minority women consist of fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers as stated by Special Report NSF 15-311. Arlington, VA.
These studies along with others demonstrate how interest in STEM fields can be lost as girls advance through their education. Therefore, it’s important for girls to be exposed to and encouraged in STEM fields.
“I believe that any young girl who happens to be interested in math and science fields should try their best to continue doing what they enjoy. I know that it might be easier to take other courses because there is a higher girl population in those classes, but the total number of girls is increasing in these fields and they are only gonna grow more if we continue to show interest. In sophomore and junior year, I happened to be one of only two girls in each engineering class and even though we were the only females, I really liked the classes and I’m glad I didn’t change out of them,” commented Mcfarland.
Places close to home, such as Lansdale, PA, strive to expose young girls to the world of STEM. One way they do this is through the Discover Your Future Event, presented by Montgomery County Community College and The American Association of University Women of Lansdale, which was hosted this year on March 25th. The intention of the event is to introduce girls in grades 5, 6, and 7 to the world of STEM careers through presentations, hands on workshops, and a Discovery Lab full of various experiments.
“I think that women are underrepresented in STEM because during their childhood they did not have much exposure to STEM. More toys and games and events are becoming increasingly available to girls. Hopefully, their parents will give them exposure to these opportunities,” stated Marian Cohen, the DYF Chair.
Ultimately, there are a vast array of possibilities for women in STEM fields, and it’s significant for girls to stay involved in mathematics and science if that is what interests them, regardless of any gender gaps or disparities they may feel.
“There are so many opportunities for women in STEM – businesses are trying to increase the women in their STEM departments, giving women an advantage to job opportunities. STEM is such a broad spectrum of opportunities. I feel it is one of the faster growing and changing environments. It gives you the opportunity to continue to learn,” Cohen expressed.
To read a similar article previously posted on the Knight Crier written by Staff Writer Ashley Kister analyzing the gender gap in FCS and Tech Ed departments, refer to the following link: