I have been asked a number of times to write about the STEM interest gender gap – especially with the recent Goldiblox commercial debacle.
Numerous studies show an increasing gender gap with respect to male-female interest in STEM. It’s disheartening to think girls are told they are not qualified for STEM pursuits. Just as dispiriting, studies show girls’ interest in STEM decreasing during high school – a time when girls should be encouraged to explore and discover these fields.
If there’s anything we can give our daughters, female students, or girls in our community, it is a sense that anything is within their reach.
The issue of STEM and girls is a non-issue…for me. I want to preface my story with the understanding that this is only my story. It is not representative of most girls’ experiences. Instead, my story is about some of the positive influences I had that made me want to pursue a career in STEM and the ways in which I now support my own daughters.
Like a lot of girls in elementary school, I enjoyed math and science. I eventually studied computer science in college and became a software engineer. Through the years, I moved into various roles related to technology processes. Currently, I design learning solutions in STEM for teachers and students. I have always been fascinated with numbers, patterns, and problem solving. I find joy in defining and improving processes.
I am also a mom of two teenaged daughters. Both daughters excel in math and science but I wouldn’t say they get pumped like I do when they are posed with a tricky math problem. However, the de facto standard in our household is that math challenges are not optional regardless of what the teacher says. It can’t hurt to try (emphasis on try).
I could easily have been a statistic in that I, like many young girls, started with an interest in science and math. If obstacles, such as societal pressures or having teachers and/or parents that didn’t believe in me stood in my way, who knows what my life would have turned out to be. I was fortunate to have people in my life that encouraged my interests and paved the way to make my passions possible.
I was fortunate to have people in my life that encouraged my interests and paved the way to make my passions possible.
If there’s anything we can give our daughters, female students, or girls in our community, it is a sense that anything is within their reach. If they have an interest, allow them to pursue it. Give them the confidence and opportunities so they can find their passion. Who knows? Their passion just might be in STEM.
Barbara Joseph is the Aspire Institute Learning Solutions Project Manager. Barbara joined Aspire in December 2010 as STEP Project Manager for a NASA-funded grant. Prior to joining Aspire, she spent over 20 years of her career in high technology, specifically software localization. She has held various positions from software engineer, director of technical services, vice president of operations and most recently, project/program manager.
Photos credited to the Lab Science Center and Argonne National Laboratory and used under Creative Commons license.