As an engineer, I am thrilled when I see young women who are passionate about STEM, but unfortunately, too few women are pursuing these fields. Women make up more than half of all college students today, but not enough enroll in STEM programs or are available for technical careers. I completed my college education more than 30 years ago and wonder why we have not made more progress.
Those of us in technical fields owe it to young women to provide guidance, encouragement and remove the stereotype of STEM-related careers. It is necessary to get involved early in their educational development. If a young woman is not already on the path of taking challenging math and science courses by her sophomore year in high school, she will be unable to complete the required curriculum necessary to pursue many technical fields in college. Realistically, if a young woman’s interest in STEM isn’t encouraged in grade school, she is unlikely to take the challenging coursework in high school.
Outreach is most effective to young women in grade school and early high school. When I speak with young women, I encourage them to take the most challenging STEM courses available, even if they’re not thinking of a future in a technical field. The problem solving, logic, and critical-thinking skills they will learn are useful in any career field or discipline. Group lab exercises and science projects foster teamwork skills necessary for success in any work environment. And practically speaking, if a young woman is unsure of her future career path, she can begin coursework in STEM courses and can easily transfer to another field.
I offered this advice and encouragement to my own daughters. One majored in math and minored in finance. She is now employed in the financial services industry, using her math skills in a business environment. The other started as an engineering major and ultimately received her degree in psychology. She is now completing her doctorate in behavioral neuroscience, utilizing her math and science training in brain research.
It’s also important to help these young women build confidence. Parents, teachers, and those in technical fields should always encourage young women to challenge themselves and to embrace STEM courses as a way to expand their capabilities and their future opportunities. We will all be better for it.