by: Nina Boord
When I tell my female friends I’m taking AP Physics C next year (a calculus-based college physics course) their jaws drop and they tell me “you’re crazy” or “good for you, but I would never.” While supportive, none of them share my passion for STEM. When people ask me what I want to do when I grow up, I say “engineering”. When I ask my friends what they want to do, time and time again they answer, “I’m not sure yet, but nothing to do with science or math. That’s for sure.”
The gender gap in STEM is not just some statistical anomaly; it is something I witness every day. Even I had my own doubts about being an engineer, in part due to the fact that I never had a friend that shared my interests. Almost all of the girls I know have a negative attitude towards math and avoid any math-based sciences like Chemistry, Physics, and Computer Science. Most girls constantly tell themselves that they are just not a “math person” or a “science person” and therefore will never succeed in the subject.
Girls’ cynicism towards STEM starts at a very early age, and our society and education system is at fault. The way math is taught in schools emphasizes speed and competition. Clubs like math team, while not inherently bad, deter many girls who are less competitive and more collaborative (which are exactly the kind of people we need in STEM). Math classes are often tedious, boring, and stress-inducing. Constant testing ensures that if you don’t understand even one concept, you will fall behind. In our current social and educational climate, I don’t blame most girls for not wanting to pursue STEM.
However, one thing in particular sets me apart from the majority of my female peers. At the age of eight or nine, I was lucky enough to participate in a summer camp where we were able to take “classes” in math and science subjects that interested us. I fervently chose “Fun With Chemistry”, “Lego Robotics”, and “Building Computer Games With Scratch” (an introduction to computer science). I have no doubt that an early exposure to these subjects in a stress-free environment was how I developed a positive attitude towards STEM. Since then, my dream job fluctuated from chemist to video game designer to electrical engineer. Now, one day I hope to start my own tech startup.
Organizations like MakerGirl are integral in cultivating a positive attitude in girls towards technical subjects. It is imperative that young girls experience STEM at least once in a collaborative, fun, and stress-free environment to open the path up for them to pursue it in the future. STEM is powerful, STEM is lucrative, and STEM makes change. STEM is exactly where we need the next generation of women to be.