Helping to increase the involvement of women and girls in STEM fields is an endeavor of a personal nature. As a woman with a STEM degree, I know firsthand the obstacles women face when pursuing STEM. In middle school, I was discouraged to take upper-level math courses by a teacher who expressed that “math was for boys” and that girls just simply “aren’t smart enough” to become STEM professionals. However, I was lucky.
Unlike many other girls in my shoes, I had a strong support system at home and mentors that restored the confidence and grit it takes to overcome the obstacles women face along STEM pathways. Two key components that have been statistically shown to help increase engagement and encourage women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields are, establishing the importance of mentors at an early age, and incorporating project-based learning both in and outside of the classroom.
Seventy-five percent of girls who participate in hands-on STEM activities outside the classroom feel a sense of empowerment. That finding drops to under 50 percent for those who only experience STEM activities in the classroom. Mentoring plays an important role in fostering motivation and confidence in women and girls along STEM pathways. Girls with a mentor are 2.5 times more likely to be confident in their ability to succeed in school and careers.
Hands-on activities and project-based learning are great methods to expose girls to the opportunities a career in STEM can offer. These activities can demonstrate the direct correlation between STEM fields and creating impact in communities, while also cultivating innovation, creativity, and teamwork in students. Seventy-two percent of girls and young women say that it is important for them to have a job that directly helps the world. This type of learning provides girls with the skills they need to be successful in a technology driven workforce, and most importantly, instills in them a love for lifelong learning.
In addition, the job growth rate for STEM-related jobs is about 38 percent, not to mention that STEM jobs are among the highest paying careers. With statistics like these, it’s easy to see why STEM education is so important for our students’ success.