While in many respects high school is a distant memory, I have a vivid recollection of a discussion with my 11th grade biology teacher. I can picture the classroom, my teacher’s short haircut in the late 1970s style, and my utter incredulity when she said I would make a great scientist. All I could think of was “Is this woman out of her mind?” (My adult self can also see the hurt in her eyes as she registered my reaction.)
What events led this, at the time, 16-year-old to not even consider a career in science? I had certainly never met a women working in science or engineering (either in real life nor on TV) and it was not clear to me what a career in science meant, other than teaching biology in a high school classroom.
After a lot of hard work and thanks to shows like CSI and the celebrated wealth of science geeks at software companies, participation in STEM fields is much more understood and desirable today. Yet women are still woefully underrepresented. I know the environment has changed but it seems that young women are continuing to choose fields other than STEM.
To begin solving this problem, we need to improve STEM education for all children. Compelling classes taught by trained teachers with a passion for these fields will increase the overall number of students pursuing STEM careers. At Motorola we fund programs that provide opportunities for STEM professionals to go back to school for their teaching credentials. These programs go beyond helping the teachers get paperwork done. In fact, these programs focus on developing the teacher in the classroom by providing a network of professionals and resources outside the classroom. This network includes experienced teachers who are available to help them develop teaching strategies and tactics and show them how to survive the bureaucracy of the school system.
We need to educate young girls, parents, and caregivers on the exciting careers that are available in the STEM fields and that women are excelling in these fields today. When girls come home from a great day in biology lab, they need to be encouraged (and yes maybe more than boys) to pursue a STEM career and have role models to look up to as examples of successful women who are making a difference in these fields.