Closing the Gap: Connecting Women and Girls to STEM Fields

October 15th, 2013 | by Michelle Manno

STEM Initiatives for GirlsOur nation is in constant competition to become the leaders in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Education reform initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Standards aim to expose students to an increase in STEM materials as a means of preparing them for success in college and the workplace. STEM initiatives are high priority in today’s education, but what’s more important is who these initiatives are targeting: Girls.

In the White House

In September of this year, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of recruiting girls and women into STEM-related studies and careers, stating “If we are going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation is a report put forth by the U.S. Department of Commerce that indicates that while women currently hold half of the jobs in the U.S., they hold less than a quarter of occupations in STEM-related fields. This is not indicative of women’s interest in STEM careers, but does call attention to the disparity of women among these fields. Education initiative programs such as TechGirls aims to close this gap, encouraging girls and women to pursue STEM degrees and careers.

The White House has teamed up with private-sector partners to increase STEM education and participation within girls, women, and people of color. These new partnerships include the following commitments:

  • Over $500,000 in funding for STEM programing at the national girl-serving organization, Girls, Inc.
  • New partnership between Girl Scouts, USA and Mocha Moms, Inc, a national network for moms of color, to encourage recruitment of STEM mentors
  • Collaboration spearheaded by the Entertainment Industries Council to feature more women and girls in STEM fields in the media
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s new NASA G.I.R.L.S. program features online STEM lesson plans and mentoring for girls.

In the Media

Marvel Comics and Natalie Portman have teamed up and announced the Ultimate Mentor Adventure, a marketing campaign for the new movie Thor: The Dark World. This opportunity, deemed “part mentor program, part contest” provides girls in grades 9-12 with the resources to interview an important woman in a STEM field. Applicants must submit a five-minute video discussing their love for science, their experience interviewing their mentor, and the steps they will take to pursue a career in STEM. Winners of the Ultimate Mentor Adventure win a trip to Los Angeles, California to watch Thor: The Dark World on opening day. Applicants’ videos will air as a preceding documentary to the premiere of the film.

Education Initiatives

There are a number of private and non-profit agencies whose main goal is to increase student awareness, engagement, and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics:

JASON: JASON Learning is a non-profit organization that exposes students to real-life science and exploration both in and outside of the traditional classroom, and inspiring students to pursue study and careers in STEM fields. JASON provides standards-aligned resources, professional development training, and live STEM events.

National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP): NGCP reaches out to girl-serving STEM organizations and individuals who are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. NGCP aims to reach the following goals by 2016:

  • Strengthen the capacity of girl-serving STEM programs to effectively reach and serve underrepresented girls in STEM
  • Increase the effectiveness of Collaboratives by providing professional development focused on sustainability, organizational effectiveness, and shared leadership
  • Maximize K-12 schools counselors’ access to and use of relevant, high-quality resource that increase awareness of barriers to girls’ interest and engagement in STEM

For Girls in Science: For Girls in Science is a place for young girls to connect and share ideas, advice, and inspiration with other like-minded girls interested in a career in STEM. Powered by L’Oreal, For Girls in Science vows to “create a community for girls who love science and a place for them to dream big.” The organization provides girls with comprehensive information about STEM careers and salaries, access to mentors, and summer camp opportunity to extend their love of learning past the school year.

STEM Behind Hollywood: STEM Behind Hollywood is the education initiative put forth by Texas Instruments (TI), aimed at motivating middle and high school students about STEM studies and careers. This program focuses on the popular Hollywood themes of zombies, superheroes, space, and forensics to make math and science “come to life.” STEM Behind Hollywood aims to increase student engagement and motivation in fields of science and mathematics by linking studies in pop culture.

Science Cheerleader: Created by former Philadelphia 76ers cheerleader Darlene Cavalier, Science Cheerleaders consists of over 150 current and former professional cheerleaders who are pursuing careers in STEM-related fields. Traveling across the nation, the Science Cheerleaders participate in events and appearances aimed at motivating children to consider careers in sciences and providing adults with access to science-related volunteer opportunities in their community.

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