Girls in STEM/STEAM: Breaking the Glass Ceiling!

By Crystal Ladwig, Ph. D.

The glass ceiling has been broken in many areas of society, but one prominent area remains. Males continue to dominate STEM careers. Thankfully, resources encouraging girls to pursue their interests in these fields, and girls in STEM/STEAM are on the rise!

STEM programs include subjects and topics related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. You may also see it written STEAM instead to include the importance of the arts. While girls are just as capable as boys to perform STEM-related jobs, research has consistently shown that girls tend to shy away from STEM activities and subjects as early as elementary school years largely due to gender stereotypes and girls being encouraged to pursue traditionally feminine careers.

According to Mathnasium, a Gainesville business specializing in enhancing children’s math skills, STEM careers are growing nearly twice as fast as other professions and currently make up approximately 90 percent of the best-paying jobs for recent college graduates. “This exponential growth has created a situation in which the demand for qualified STEM professionals is high, but the supply of STEM workers to fill the positions is low, especially among women,” said Mathnasium Center Director Jason Reeves.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women fill only 24 percent of STEM jobs despite comprising 48 percent of the U.S. workforce. The relatively low supply of highly qualified women in STEM careers has led to a plethora of training programs and educational opportunities designed specifically to encourage girls and young women to pursue their interests in STEM fields and eventually enter into STEM careers.

For instance, the Girl Scouts offer STEM badges in digital art, science and technology and outdoor exploration to promote problem solving, critical thinking, better grades and opportunities for lucrative careers paths. NASA also offers an annual Girls in STEM program for middle school girls each summer. Attendees participate in tours, hands-on activities, a career showcase, and the opportunity to meet with female scientists and engineers from NASA. The event culminates in an Engineering Design Challenge where participants work on real-world challenges as members of a team as they apply what they have learned to technical problems.

STEM programs abound in the Gainesville area, and many of these programs include specialized programs for girls. Engineering for Kids of North Central Florida, Master Builder Camp and Santa Fe College’s College for Kids all offer STEM classes, camps, and other activities to children and youth in our region. The University of Florida sponsors or participates in several female-oriented STEM programs including a UF Girls Tech Camp where participants learn coding, augmented reality, 3D printing and scanning, crafting and technology, and video production. Both UF and the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention hold women in science events such as Girls Build the World, a hands-on event including activities and introductions to STEM careers in electrical and computer engineering. According to Ashley Bryant, the Cade Museum’s marketing and communications director, a goal of the museum is “to attract the underserved and underrepresented girls in Alachua County, in particular, those on the East side.”

If your schedule or finances prohibit your daughter from attending these local events on a regular basis or if your daughter simply wants more STEM, do not fret. PBS has partnered with several organizations including the National Science Foundation to create SciGirls, a website, television show and online community tasked with providing resources and opportunities for girls across the country to get involved with STEM activities. Online games and mobile apps are another resource you can use quickly and easily. Nancy Drew Codes & Clues, GoldieBlox and Tynker are among the most popular, each of which teaches at least one computer coding language.

If your daughter expresses an interest in STEM activities, encourage her. Take advantage of resources supporting that interest and build her self-confidence in her abilities to break through that glass ceiling. You might just have the next Einstein on your hands!


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