Underrepresentation of Women in STEM: We Can Make A Difference!

From the late twentieth century, leading up until now, innovation in technological advancements has skyrocketed, and will continue to progress. This movement is opening up a huge window of opportunity in the STEM field to the children and young adults of the current generation. Orange County in particular, has a competitive edge in innovation globally, and is home to many STEM industries and colleges/universities. Yet, the schools are still lacking in a proper STEM curriculum; an approach to education that involves learning problem-solving skills, teamwork, and real-world applications of STEM. Consequently, STEM industries are finding it more difficult to employ Americans, specifically women who are qualified and have the skills to join the STEM workforce.

According to the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation, although women make up half of the entire US workforce, they only compose a quarter of the workforce in STEM. “STEM Education Statistics” from the National Math + Science Initiative reveals that only 20% of students choose to pursue STEM; and of that 20%, less than half of them are women. So, why does this barrier in the STEM field exist? Where does the notion of STEM being a more male-dominant field “stem” from?

I believe it all starts with the insufficient STEM education being offered to young students: This lack of exposure to STEM subjects is affecting the number of women entering the field and contributing to the biases they face in the long run. The barriers and biases suggesting that women are not STEM competent is called STEM Stereotyping. Evidently, if there are less female STEM professionals, there is less inspiration for younger girls to explore the field. Carolina Barrera, a female electrical engineering major attending Cal State Long Beach (previously Irvine Valley College), has noticed her female peers experience intimidation in a STEM setting and noted that there are usually only three to four female students in every STEM-related course she has taken. STEM stereotyping can potentially be a leading cause of why there are less women in STEM, however this problem also roots from experiences (or lack of) during early childhood. Students develop their confidence, interests, and mindsets from a young age, but are not being exposed to STEM subjects early on, thus decreasing the opportunity for young girls to form an interest and understanding of STEM subjects. There is a growing need for STEM workers in our evolving economy and if the percentage of girls pursuing and getting involved with STEM remains a constant pattern, STEM industry employers will be lacking in a qualified and diverse workforce.

Through the implementation of a hands-on STEM curriculum in Orange County’s elementary schools, the gap between women and STEM can be linked. STEM can be introduced through a project-based learning approach, which gets students more interested and engaged in subjects. By allowing students, both male and female to work on STEM projects together, their mindsets can potentially be formed or influenced to view both genders as STEM competent. Writers Jordan Graham and Marilyn Barger explain how a hands-on STEM curriculum is different from the traditional classroom setting because students work in teams, and are given challenges with real-world applications – but, are not taught exactly how to solve the problems. A hands-on learning experience puts “theory into practice”, in which students can understand how things work by applying the knowledge they have gained.

Fortunately, for the large majority of us who were not exposed to STEM at a young age, we still have many opportunities that we can seize – especially those residing in/in the area of Orange County. Also, for the women who are interested in exploring STEM, just do it. Get involved. Because, when it comes to the job market, STEM employers are looking for women in the field. We have a chance to diversify and transform the STEM field, while simultaneously influencing and inspiring the youth. Here are a few Orange County based institutions that can not only benefit you as a student, but also serve to provide a positive impact on our community:

Girls Inc. of OC – This organization was created to empower young girls and help develop their skills and confidence, specifically in STEM. Here, college level women can volunteer to teach and guide young girls, sharing their knowledge in STEM, but also inspiring and motivating elementary/middle school students to pursue STEM.

Mathobotix – This OpenTechLab for students K-12 offers a variety of classes using a project-based learning curriculum. Internships are offered here for college students where they can mentor students in robotics and open-source hardware/software projects, while also gaining work experience.

STEMbility – Undergraduate students looking to gain real-world STEM experience can apply every season to participate in STEMbility’s YouTube web series, in which students create their own impactful projects. Students have the opportunity to apply what they have learned in school while gaining new skills, while also educating and inspiring the public.

Listo America – This non-profit afterschool program allows teenagers to explore STEM by training students in technological skills. College students can come here to help mentor and share/teach their skills to students – They are able to help prepare and inspire teenagers to pursue STEM, while also preparing themselves for the workforce.

Photos from: LockheedMartin.com/ & WomenInSTEM.co.uk/

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