Engaging Girls in S.T.E.M.

IMG_7519As we advance into the 21st century, it’s no secret that careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are here to stay. So why does popular culture continue to preach superficiality rather than ambition, self-confidence, and education for young women? While of course not every girl will pursue a future in STEM, it is important that they’re aware of the massive role STEM plays in our world and the career options available to them.

The gender imbalance for careers and education is seen most prevalent in STEM fields, where women make up only 15-25% of the current workforce. STEM jobs tend to be higher paid, meaning that the lack of women in these roles contributes to the gender salary gap. While girls are more than capable of pursuing careers in this field, stereotyping often leads them to feel less confident in their abilities and less motivated. Additionally, the lack of women currently in these fields means that there are fewer female role models for girls still forming career choices.

IMG_1531Luckily, STEM is one of Girl Scouts’ key pillars, with the intent to engage young women in STEM topics and scientific reasoning, and allow them to apply concepts learned in school in new ways. Exposing girls to STEM between the ages of 8 and 11 can have a huge impact in their future interest and involvement. Immersion and engagement helps establish that:

  • It is socially acceptable for girls to enjoy STEM.
  • It is normal for girls to excel in science and math classes as they approach middle school and high school.
  • That STEM is interesting and engaging and a discipline to be taken into consideration when planning for college and a career.

IMG_7619With STEM involvement, girls will better understand that successes come from their own efforts. Girls indicated that their ability to build and design things, as well as research and solve problems, all improved with their participation in these programs. Additionally, adults reported that participants’ tendency to try their hardest and to persevere through a difficult challenge increased as a result of STEM programs.

So how do we engage girls? The Girl Scout STEM programs are designed with the intention to increase girls’ interest and confidence in STEM-related skills, educate girls about STEM careers and expose girls to STEM professionals.

  • Exposure: show women in this profession through social media, role models, etc.
    • Girls agreed (83%) that because of the STEM program, they knew more about the types of things that people who study science, technology, engineering, or math can do for their jobs.
  • Normalization: erase the stigma that STEM is incomprehensible and show the span of this field.
    • Girls agreed that scientists and engineers work on things that help people, and that STEM professionals make a difference in the world.
  • Engagement: much of learning takes place outside of the classroom – this is where Girl Scouts comes in!
    • Girls worked together to conduct experiments, had the ability to lead their own exploration, and build things with their hands.

IMG_7554When STEM programs are taught in the context of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE), it allows girls to combine STEM learning with leadership and growth mindset development in a supportive, informal environment. Through support and inspiration from STEM professionals and adult leaders, girls have reported feeling more valued and listened to in comparison to other places – which has a direct influence on confidence levels! Additionally, they achieve GSLE outcomes such as becoming resourceful problem solvers, challenge seekers, promoters of cooperation and team building and feel empowered to make a difference in the world.

After experiencing these programs, girls reported feeling more positive about STEM, more interested in engaging in additional STEM activities and taking more STEM-related classes in school, interested in learning more about college-level STEM majors and pursuing STEM careers. In fact, 77% of girls say that, because of Girl Scouts, they are considering a career in technology.

So instead of allowing our future scientists to drop out of the race before it begins, let’s give girls a chance to pursue all of the avenues that might be of interest to them, and encourage them in the process! Girl Scouts of California’s Central Coast introduces girls of all ages to how they can use STEM and help make the world a better place! Learn more about GSCCC STEM & STEAM activities!