In my elementary and middle schools, STEM subjects were not surrounded by a vibe that anyone would label as “fun.” Sure, the schools tried to encourage them—“Engineers are the people who make the world work!”—but they treated STEM careers as sorts of dull but noble pathways that math-savvy students were simply obligated to undertake. In eighth grade, two girls from the nearby high school came to talk to all the girls in my class about why they need to go into STEM. No offense to the girls—they were simply doing their bests—but nothing dissuaded me from taking an engineering pathway more.
See, what initially turned me away from STEM fields was the fact that it made me feel like I would not have fun. Engineering was presented to me as an entirely unglamorous field in which I would be the only woman; why else would these girls come in begging us to take part?
The little experience I did have in STEM certainly did not help these sentiments. In a seventh-grade robotics lab, my friends and I took time to make sure our Lego robot looked “cute;” we used the colored Lego pieces as opposed to the black ones and animated a little face onto the controller. Our science teacher was infuriated; “Engineering is not about making things pretty!” he argued. Most of my friends decided on their career paths right there; if STEM did not allow for fun or creativity, why would they ever go into that field? From there, I worried that if I did want to continue in the STEM field, I would be left out (a twelve-year-old’s nightmare); all my friends would be together in liberal arts classes while I would be alone building robots—with grey pieces only.
My dream for the future is to have volunteer organizations that teach girls about STEM also take time to train teachers and even parents on how to keep female students from feeling left out for having different preferences and how to allow them, especially at young ages, to maintain all their interests. Sure, the “real world” does cut fun out of some work, but middle schoolers have time to animate faces onto their robots; why stop them? In seventh grade, I truly did enjoy robotics, but I also liked art and the color pink. Why did my teacher have to act like they were mutually exclusive?
Another beneficial training would be on how to keep teachers from making their female students worry about going into STEM; in eleventh grade, I told my counselor I wanted to take AP computer science, to which she said, “Oh, don’t take that. You’ll be the only girl.” When girls think studying STEM makes them strong women who are entering a field not of men, but of intelligent people of all genders, they will certainly feel more inclined to consider it as a career.
By the way, that robot we built in seventh grade won the whole competition.