STEM Programs Worth Exploring

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A leaky pipeline is a metaphor often applied to women in STEM. There are many young girls interested in science, but at every step toward becoming a scientist, an engineer, or maybe a computer programmer, their interest wanes and they “leak” out of the pipeline. Some of this is natural; most of us have ephemeral dreams at a younger age, one day deciding we will rocket to the moon as grown-ups and the next deciding we need to make our career writing mystery novels. But there are also people telling young women that science is not suitable for them or that a woman cannot make a good engineer. The scientific community as a whole seems to disagree, however, as myriad university programs exist to help young women discover how a career in science, engineering, or technology might bring their life joy and meaning. These programs try to spark the girls’ interest in potential scientific projects that can carry a young woman past any criticism she might hear, keeping her too enraptured by some new discovery she might explore, to listen.
            One such program is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Women’s Technology Program (WTP). MIT, one of the most well-respected names in STEM education, describes their WTP as “not a ‘summer camp’ but an intense academic experience.” The WTP takes young women fresh from eleventh grade through four weeks of intensive classes, experiments, and team projects in either Electrical Engineering and Computer Science or Mechanical Engineering. Both programs are taught by either current or recently graduated MIT women of the field, and the WTP is specifically designed for young women who have no experience in the fields of study and who are uncertain what university degree they will pursue.
            Another program, geared toward residents in and near New York City, is New York University’s GSTEM, which is described primarily as a research internship. After an initial week of toe-dipping lectures and workshops, students find themselves assigned to a professional mentor in a field of their interest. Then they spend five weeks with a job, commuting from home to a project site and researching a topic for which they must prepare a final paper. Every Friday however, the GSTEMers meet up for a variety of possible activities including social events or field trips to STEM companies.
            The Arcadia Institute of Oceanography, on the other hand, hosts a wider range of programs for young women of various ages, specifically in the field of study that is their specialty. Though most of their programs are held in Seal Harbor, Maine, they have a special Florida-based program and their tropical program has been held on the lovely shores of Jamaica, Bermuda, and Belize. Their Introductory Marine Science Camp caters to young women ages ten to twelve, and the girls spend a week exploring not only tidal pools and salt marshes and taking trips with fisherman, but they are also shown the local geology and the basics of how scientists look at the stars. An intermediate class suits those ages twelve to fifteen and the advanced class is for those ages fifteen to nineteen and they can possibly earn college credit or a scholarship to the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.
            The University of Maryland offers a two-week program called Summer Girls, which aims to give young women experience with physics learning and laboratory experimentation. Ninth graders can enter the program and spend time exploring classical mechanics. Eleventh-and twelfth-grade students learn about modern physics with topics spanning from relativity to antimatter to current applications in cracking codes. Participants are welcome from anywhere and the experience is completely free.
            One final program is the GE Girls; GE as in General Electric, who started this program that now partners with different universities: Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, MIT, Pennsylvania State, Notre Dame, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the University of Connecticut, Clemson University, the Florida Institute of Technology, Mills College in California, and the University of Washington. The program features week-long summer camps at the different universities where middle schoolers in the area come and try hands-on science ranging from creating their own lip balm to creating their own smartphone app. After that, the GE Girls Club, started in 2016, looks to keep the lines of communication open for these young women with the science community, providing hands-on activities, field trips, mentors, and even potential scholarships for those young women.
            Many other programs exist to help those young women who find themselves interested in STEM or even show the undecided what becoming a scientist might feel like. But it may not be enough because MIT’s program, for instance, accepts forty young women out of a pool of six hundred. And the pipeline continues to leak. But often the most important words a young woman hears come not from a scientist exploring how the brain works or an engineer helping design cars that drive themselves, but the words repeated again and again by the people she sees every day. The biggest leak in the pipeline is probably the stigma that others have for women entering a profession that readily desires anyone willing to contribute their mind, and yet many might not avail themselves of the possible opportunities because of it. It’s unfortunate because STEM jobs will exist as long as we have not discovered everything in the universe, and these jobs can easily provide steady income and even the joy and confidence that comes with designing, building, or discovering.
            It’s a career, and even a life, worth exploring.