When some people hear the word STEM they either think, “What does that stand for?” or “That isn’t for me.” In higher education STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are male dominated majors. After college, STEM careers are also male dominated. Yet, even though it is a male dominated field, STEM is highly popular with women students starting from elementary school through junior high. Generally, interest or participation starts to dim around the junior high/high school level. Young women are not highly encouraged to pursue STEM degrees/careers and many do not fight for their chosen paths. I believe many female students do not feel confident pursuing STEM careers because they believe math is hard or they didn’t do so well in “that one science class”. Unfortunately, these beliefs can often times determine their fate. As educators we need to encourage our female students to strive for success in all areas of their education. We also need to make sure they know about all the resources available to them.
“Female students’ (in K-12) achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering” (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). Young women and girls are able to achieve greatness when it comes to math and science but it is not only dependent upon grades and tests. Their greatness is also dependent upon the support and encouragement of others.
In higher education, “the rates of science and engineering course taking for girls/women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women” (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). Between high school and higher education there is a shift in thinking of women believing a STEM degree is possible. Often times, this lack of belief can come from not being supported or from not having a positive experience in STEM classes. “While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (17.9%), engineering (19.3%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43.1%)” (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). Not only does pursuing a STEM degree for women differ by race/nationality/ethnicity it also varies by the STEM degree. If you look at the degrees that women are shying away from, they normally require a lot of math.
When asked why women are needed in STEM fields, Dr. Craig Caldwell, Dean of the School of Science, Mathematics, and Engineering at Salt Lake Community College said, “Employment in STEM areas typically have higher wages and contributes more to economic growth and prosperity than other sectors of the economy. With the rapid expansion of STEM employment in Utah and the fact that women make up half of the working age population, there is an enormous benefit to be had for both our state and for families in which women are equally employed in well-paying STEM fields”.
We know women can play a significant role in the STEM fields. Educators should not be the only ones lending support to these students. They also need the support of those who influence them. Having an advocate that is willing to take the time to sit and talk with these women about their career goals (and taking an active role in it) can be so beneficial! At the end of the day we need more women in STEM. They can bring insights, ideas, and inventions that we might not otherwise have. We need to make sure we are encouraging women interested in STEM to pursue their dreams. Supporting women/females in STEM means opening up possibilities that otherwise may not exist for many women regardless of their race/ethnicity/nationality or age.
As women continue to pursue degrees/careers in STEM they will stand as role models for future generations. Young women need to see that others have taken this career challenge and succeeded. STEM is not for everyone, but through encouragement and self-evaluation young women can pursue the career of their choosing.
J. Teresa Davis is proud native of Chicago. She attended Maria Sklodowska Curie high school, there she majored in Drama. J. Teresa Davis received her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Science with an emphasis in Psychology from UVU and attended Kansas State University for a Masters of Science in Academic Advising. Her final project focused on working with underrepresented and non-traditional students. J. Teresa Davis was hired as the Career Counselor for the College of Science & Health at UVU in December 2016. Before joining the Career Development Center, she was employed at Salt Lake Community College as the TRIO STEM Advisor. J. Teresa Davis was also employed with the School Relations office (currently the Admissions Office) as an advisor to students and the Ambassador program. She has experience working with the LGBTQ+ community as well as sitting on multiple committees to effect change and inclusion.