by Larkin Myers
STEM classes – science, technology, engineering and math – are playing larger roles in schools as more begin to expand their curricula. For instance, East High School in Memphis launched a STEM Optional program last year, which opened the doors of a rapidly growing sector to the next generation. Female graduates, however, are still less likely to pursue careers in STEM-related fields after high school. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, females make up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, whereas social sciences is comprised of 62 percent females. What’s even more perplexing is that girls typically score evenly with their male counterparts in the math and science parts of standardized tests. So why do girls shy away from STEM careers?
Feb. 22 is Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a day to inspire girls and show that they too have a place in engineering. This day is a reminder that parents can take an initiative to talk with their daughters about career possibilities that come with an engineering degree. If given the proper introduction and opportunity to explore various fields, girls can learn and appreciate that engineering is about building a better tomorrow through problem solving. Here are simple steps that parents can take to get started:
Educate her on the broad range of engineering professions.
Careers for women in engineering extend beyond solving physics problems. Closing the gender gap in engineering starts with encouragement. If your daughter excels in her science and math classes, introduce her to different engineering fields and see what resonates with her. Read through job descriptions together so she understands the expectations and tasks of a particular field. If she enjoys physics, maybe civil or structural engineering would appeal to her. If she enjoys earth sciences, explore the career opportunities of an environmental engineer.
Gaining a thorough understanding of everyday problem-solving tasks is a clear way to find her interests in a specific field. If girls aren’t introduced to these specializations earlier in their education, they are less likely to pursue them. Ultimately, talking to your daughter about her future early can open her world to countless possibilities.
Immerse into the STEM community.
As your daughter’s curiosity grows, encourage her to join engineering-related organizations that target middle and high school students. National organizations such as The Center for STEM Education for Girls, National Girls Collaborative Project and the Association for Women in Science are committed to informing young girls about STEM fields. Locally, professors at the University of Memphis engage with aspiring female engineers through the GEE program and Christian Brothers University promotes female interest in STEM careers through its STEM Center for Women and Diversity outreach program.
Many of these organizations offer opportunities to visit labs, offices and other career settings so she can immerse herself in the daily grind of a working environment and see how her studies apply to real world work. While learning about the innovations in engineering, your daughter will also be surrounded by other like-minded peers and leaders who share her same interests, providing her with a sense of comfort and encouragement.
Tour campuses geared towards STEM programs.
Meeting college professors and current college students is an excellent avenue to learn about the different aspects of a field. Universities often invite prospective high school students to observe classes to get an understanding of a course and curriculum. Professors can also choose to mentor determined students, as many of them are eager to shape the next generation of innovative scientists and engineers.
Taking the necessary steps to learn about different programs and concentrations on campus creates a desire to learn as much as possible. It’s not too early for her to begin pursuing her career goals.
Discuss scholarship opportunities.
Young women who consider an engineering field often qualify for several engineering scholarships. Hundreds of universities and corporations across the nation offer scholarships and fellowships to students pursuing engineering careers. Organizations and foundations like the Society of Women Engineers and EngineerGirl provide grants, paid internships and externships so women can focus on their academics and not stress about tuition costs.
There are many opportunities in engineering that are far too often overlooked by young girls. Making an impact on society starts with parents, and it starts early. If given the extra push, then who knows - the first person to step foot on Mars could be your daughter!