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Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation
In assessing nationwide STEM education initiatives, current research shows that girls are more likely to choose courses and careers in science and math if their interest in these fields is sparked and cultivated throughout the school years. It is imperative to introduce young women to these fields in ways that help to contextualize STEM opportunities within their interests and experiences.
Joceyln Goldfein, director of engineering at Facebook, told the AP “The reason there aren’t more women computer scientists is because there aren’t more women computer scientists.” To end this cycle, young women need to be provided with female mentors early on and then be encouraged to become mentors themselves.
Women, especially women of color, continue to be underrepresented in STEM fields. Despite it being a lucrative in-demand field, women and girls face multiple challenges in their schooling causing them to walk away every step of the STEM education path. By middle school many girls’ starts to lose interest toward these fields and towards the end of high school fewer girls than boys plan to pursue STEM studies in college. Women who do graduate with a STEM degree enter a workforce faced with significant implicit bias that continually block women’s participation and advancement.
Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky’s social development theory promotes learning contexts in which students play an active role in learning. The roles of teachers and students are shifted at inSTEM. Educators and staff members assume the roles of facilitators, working alongside to collaborate with participants in order to help facilitate meaning construction in student’s learning experience. Learning therefore becomes a reciprocal experience for the students and teacher. Constructivism gives students ownership of what they learn, since learning is based on students' questions and explorations. Engaging the creative instincts develops students' abilities to express knowledge through a variety of ways. The students are also more likely to retain and transfer the new knowledge to real life.
At inSTEM, our participants engage participants in real-world problems fueling their curiosity. We challenge all students with finding solutions to real-world problems that promotes STEM application and critical thinking skills. The learning relevant is through explicit experiences that require students to engage tactilely and kinesthetically with rich lessons. Recently, four wonderfully intelligent and creative women engineers at Simpson Gumpertz and Heger (SGH), teamed up with inSTEM to bring real-world engineer design challenges into the classroom. The participants were able to engage in the Engineer Design Process faced with problems encountered in concrete construction.
Research shows that role models clearly have a positive impact on girls’ perception of STEM subjects. Exposure to successful female STEM role-models can buffer women and girls from the effect of the implicit bias and lead to better performance and greater interest in STEM fields. At inSTEM, we’ve created a near-peer mentorship environment. DePaul educators lead the professional development of STEM and mathematical mindset, college mentors develop their facilitator's role through guidance of high school mentors and high school mentors (many who have come up through the inSTEM program) embed learning in social experience through mentoring the campers.
Women are great at building relationships, empowering others, tuning into people’s needs, and balancing a staggering number of responsibilities making them uniquely qualified as leaders in the STEM fields. Through the inSTEM program, we assist them with the building blocks they will need to overcome the gender gap and be the future leaders the industry needs.