Mentoring Girls in STEM
As an educator who teaches others about STEM, I essentially work at the forefront of recruiting our future engineers, coders, scientists, and mathematicians. As of late, I have been reflecting on why there continues to be low representation of women within STEM positions. How do we encourage our future women to pursue STEM careers?
As an elementary educator, inviting guest speakers in to speak with my students is a vital arsenal in my educator tool belt. Students find guest speakers relevant and relatable. My favorite part of hosting a guest speaker is during the Q-and-A session immediately after. Second-graders can ask major life-affirming questions: “What if I don’t have a lot of money, can I still go to college?” “How did you know this is what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?” It was during one of these sessions that the answer to my questions was literally sitting in my classroom: To encourage future women to pursue STEM careers we must mentor them NOW!
As a result of the exhaustive work of about half a dozen mentors, I have successfully made it through grad school, twice, and I am currently raising three strong-willed daughters. During some of the hardest times of grad school, I have called a coworker who had gone through the same program. Whenever I needed a lift or a “you can do it!” I gave her a ring. She became my personal cheerleader and cold-hard truth-teller rolled into one. Everyone needs access to someone like that who will provide them with support and feedback.
Every woman in STEM must mentor young girls interested in STEM. When the going gets tough and young girls want to give up, they should look to women who are thriving in STEM careers and see that they are not alone. Being present and available to these girls not only to show them that women in STEM exist but also as much-needed support as they advance in their STEM career. With such a small number of women in STEM, there is not much of a support system. We must help bridge the gap of support.
The lack of women in STEM, as leaders and mentors, dramatically impacts girls’ interest in the field and their persistence to stick with it when the going gets tough. Mentoring provides unique opportunities for achievement for young girls through encouragement. Girls who have mentors "thrive” in nearly all STEM settings; however, “so many young people are not benefitting because they lack mentors” (J. P. Williams, “The crucial role of mentors in STEM,” U.S. News & World Report, April 24, 2014). This is especially true for African American girls interested in studying science or math.
If you are a potential mentor, take the first step and reach out to someone you met at a conference or e-mail a local school about being a guest speaker at a STEM camp or afterschool club. Educators and parents should call local universities, colleges, and businesses to find potential mentors and guest speakers. Don’t be afraid to call and ask about their willingness to come in and encourage girls to pursue their dreams. These women will become an incredible support network for the future of STEM. This seems like a small step; however, each small step gets us closer to our goal of increasing women in STEM careers.