This blog post is not solely for the attention of women. Everyone can benefit from challenging themselves in the STEM field. STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. Though there is debate on whether there is a general shortage of Americans in STEM fields, women and minorities represent a large deficit in these areas of study. It goes without saying that all members of the public should invest in educating themselves in at least one of the STEM fields.
STEM is versatile
There is nothing wrong with participating in the humanities and liberal arts. In fact, we need those facets of our cultural identity. The addition of STEM skills can greatly enhance those areas of knowledge and make you a more diverse, dynamic and competitive employee. You can be a teacher, but you can also be an algebra or biology teacher for K-12 students. You can be a librarian, but you can also be a systems librarian, medical reference librarian, web and data librarian etc. Organization, communication and creative skills are not lost in the traditionally analytical STEM fields. Fashion designers and crafters can use computer-aided design (CAD) to create graphic representations of a product. CAD can also be used to create 3D designs. Imagine a 22nd Century museum filled with 3D printed sculptures as a representation of early 21st Century art.
Early and mid-career professionals
You’re not stuck with a job title/description. Most employers would be more than happy if you inquired about being the technology liaison for your department. Having background knowledge in your area, as well as tech knowledge, could place you in a dynamic position to recommend training, updates or software to improve your organization’s management. It is also never too late to learn. In fact, having spent decades in an industry, you’re more experienced. Experience brings with it a treasure of potential.
Youth and pre-professionals
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, at the K-12 level girls are holding their ground with boys in the math and science curriculum. The reality is that, contrary to previously held beliefs, girls and young women are entering the STEM fields. The drop-off occurs at the post-secondary level. Women account for more than half of the population at most American universities. However, women account for the least university degrees in math, engineering and computer science (approx 18%). Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans combined account for 13% of science and engineering degrees earned in 2011. Though there is an abundance of articles, listing the reasons why women are dropping like flies from STEM education, many of them boil down to options. Either there aren’t any or not enough. Young females are discouraged at a young age, so they opt to shift toward other areas of study they believe their skills are better suited. There is also the unfortunate tale of the post-graduate woman who is forced to trade her dream career in order to care for her children (or is marginalized for employment because she has children).
A little encouragement
As a female and a minority, the statistics mirror my personal narrative. I was a late arrival to the information technology field because, when I was younger, I was terrible at math. I unfortunately assumed, like many other girls, that I would never be able to work in the sciences because I wasn’t “naturally” talented. I also didn’t receive my first personal computer until I was in middle school (late 90s to early 2000s). Back then a computer would easily set you back a couple grand. The few computer courses I took championed boys as future programmers and technicians. I thought that boys were naturally great with technology without realizing that it was a symptom of their environment. It would have been great if someone pulled me aside and explained that natural talent is a myth. That if I was willing to work diligently, I could be as good as the boys.
Organizations like STEMinist.com exist to remind everyone that women and minorities are capable of holding positions in STEM fields. This is by no means an endorsement for STEMinist, I just thought the addition of STEM as another frontier for feminism should be recognized. If you type “women in STEM” into a search engine, you’ll be inundated with other organizations that are adding to the conversation. No matter where your views fall on the concept of feminism, or females and minorities in the sciences, we all have a role to play in encouraging them to pursue their interests as a career.
Are you or do you know a woman/minority who is contributing to science and technology? No matter how small you believe the contribution to be, leave a comment in hopes of encouraging someone.
Thanks Brittney for sharing your experience! I can relate. I was never good at math either and didn’t imagine there might be a role for me in working with technology. I think back to my middle and high school days and there was just no exposure to it. I didn’t know anyone who worked with tech, male or female, and it just wasn’t on my radar. Now it’s so exciting to see the different organizations pop up that help make tech fun and comfortable to explore at a young age! Since moving to Madison I’ve become involved in a group called ProjectCSGirls (http://www.projectcsgirls.com/) – I mentor middle school teams working to develop an app. Technovation Challenge (http://www.technovationchallenge.org/home/) is another similar group. If anyone’s looking for volunteer opportunities these are good ways to help nurture interest in your local community!
Brianna, thank you for sharing your experience as well. I find that most women fall into this category. My hope is that outreach and visibility will help to change the rules in male-dominated industries.
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