I vividly remember my eighth grade math class, which was my first introduction to algebra. Our teacher was a woman, but my memory was that she favored the boys in the class when it came to classroom participation. My best friend was the smartest girl, probably the smartest person, in the class. Even though she often raised her hand, the teacher would, more often than not, overlooked her to call upon a boy.

Eighth grade was many decades ago, but my memory serves to remind me that if we want more women represented in the STEM fields, we need to engage and encourage girls in math and science early in their school career. Through engaged teaching, extracurricular clubs and competitions, and interaction with women volunteers currently employed in the STEM field, girls can be empowered to become women with fulfilling STEM careers. Math and science are tough subjects that require hard work and discipline but they also lead to breakthrough innovations that can change people’s lives. I believe we need to help girls in the early stages of their academic careers to see the connections between the hard work required behind studying math and science and the outcomes of vaccines that cure diseases, materials that make artificial limbs lighter, and technologies that connect and protect people.

Despite our teacher, my best friend did become a mechanical and software engineer and she now works for the world’s leading desktop software company. Her motivation and encouragement came from her dad, who was also an engineer. Parents and teachers have the most profound effect on a student’s course of study and I have heard parents dissuade their daughters from studying STEM degrees because of the difficulty. Women are up to the challenge. A rewarding career of any type requires hard work, whether in the classroom or in the post-college world. Girls need to be encouraged to accept the challenge of hard work to reap the highly rewarding careers in STEM. We need more women and more diversity in the STEM disciplines because without different perspectives, without diversity of thought, innovation suffers.