Scientists are made, not born, which is why many efforts and policies should be in place to improve the representation of women in STEM fields. Because a child’s interests begin to develop from an early age, it is imperative that parents and schools work together to provide hands-on experiments and projects for students that allow them to make, break, and most importantly, fail. I did not have the privilege of having my parents pay much attention to what I was learning in school because they don’t know English well. I don’t want girls to feel the way I did in early education; lonely, unsure, and unknowing. I never even heard the word “engineer” until I started high school!
Low-income students, especially females, are the most vulnerable populations and therefore need the most structure and help in early education. Being a female from an immigrant family exposed me to ideas about “women’s work”, but I always questioned machismo and wanted to do better for myself. Other girls are not so lucky. For this reason, school districts should require certain experiments and field trips in their curriculum, just as all schools may require certain English or history topics. Prioritizing funding to low-income schools and schools where many students don’t have college-educated parents is also key. My childhood self would have loved to conduct fun science experiments that were paired with discussions about career options for when I became a ”grown-up.” Unfortunately, underfunding in my school meant that we never did this. The kids on the other side of town seemed to have more fun doing experiments, going to space camp, or having field trips every semester, and I believe that every child should have that opportunity.
These schools would also benefit from volunteer female STEM major college students helping girls succeed before starting college. At the discretion of parents, this can mean anything from taking the girls home from school, helping them with homework, or talking to them about career options. This helps them network and create a pipeline of support for higher education.
Girls and women have a tendency to be more empathetic than men, as shown in several studies. The effects of science on social impact should be discussed with them during career information sessions and with teachers. Starting in ninth grade and continuing every year, it would be beneficial for girls to attend career fairs with only women representing each career. This way, girls can network with successful women and ask questions one-on-one without feeling embarrassed. In addition, requiring career representatives to develop interesting stories about themselves and their careers that show what scientists and engineers do would further excite budding scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. This is important because there are many misconceptions about what scientists do and don’t do. Teachers can help with this by mentioning career applications of STEM topics discussed in class and showing how impactful, creative, and collaborative a career in STEM can be.
With forward-thinking and outreach starting in the first years of schooling, it is possible for women to dominate STEM with their collaborative and empathetic thinking. The only obstacle is the lack of school policies, which can easily be changed with the advocacy of teachers, parents, students, and school officials