We must encourage female interest in STEM fields from early age

Mary Dolan

It would be an understatement to say that the University of Texas is an enormous school. There are many different programs and majors that students can explore. Some of the most popular of these are the STEM majors: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While the popularity of these majors has skyrocketed in the past few years for men and women, the gender imbalance among those who study STEM majors and work in STEM fields has remained large. 

The major reason for this gap has been the fact that women tend not to pursue STEM fields at the same rate as men. According to a February 2015 USA Today article, women comprise 47 percent of the U.S. workforce, but only 7.2 percent of mechanical engineers, 8.3 percent of electrical and electronic engineers, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists and 39 percent of chemists and material scientists. However, many seek to change this.

President Obama spoke in 2013 about the need for more women in STEM fields, and schools and organizations have acted accordingly. Volunteer group DiscoverE created Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (also known as Girl Day), a day specifically designed to introduce girls to the engineering profession in fun and creative ways. DiscoverE director of programs Thea Sahr spoke to USA Today, saying that the program was created “to sustain and grow a dynamic engineering profession through outreach, education, celebration and volunteerism.” UT was one of several schools that participated in the organization’s 14th annual Girl Day.

Girl Day is certainly on the right track. It is important to introduce young women to STEM fields early on. It is in middle and high school that many girls tend to get turned off of STEM subjects. Many of them are only exposed to these subjects through math and science projects, and a lack of interest in these areas outside of school leads them to stop considering STEM subjects as a career choice. According to a November 2014 Washington Post article, women get only 18 percent of computer science degrees and 43 percent of statistics and mathematics degrees. By encouraging young girls to explore STEM activities outside of the classroom in a variety of ways, we can help ensure that girls carry an interest in engineering or math or science into their college years and beyond. 

Many schools are doing their part to try and admit and retain women who wish to work in STEM fields. Because these fields are often presented and seen as nerdy or overwhelmingly male, many schools are working to change the image women have of these majors and career paths. These efforts include programs like the aforementioned Girl Day, which are designed to introduce girls to math and science activities, and clubs and social events that are meant to foster friendships between women in engineering and do away with the stereotype of the STEM fields as male-dominated, unsociable environments. Another tactic is to invite prominent women in STEM fields to speak with aspiring young girls about the opportunities in those areas. Such women can prove to be role models for younger girls. These types of events will hopefully continue to inspire girls to achieve their goals within STEM fields.

Obviously, it is important to ensure that women will continue to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math. There have already been a lot of efforts to crush the negative perceptions of these fields that many women have. We need to teach girls in elementary, middle, and high school that they can overcome these negative perceptions and excel in the fields that they choose. We should encourage them to explore their passions and interests and to not shy away from a desire to pursue an education in STEM fields. Women who have chosen those areas of study should be held up as examples to girls who wish to achieve the same success. The STEM majors are becoming more valuable than ever. In the coming years, hopefully more and more women are able to explore these areas of study and reap the rewards.

Dolan is a journalism freshman from Abilene. Follow Dolan on Twitter @mimimdolan.