What If –
Reflecting about our early experiences in STEM
Working for improvements for girls today
By Veronica Gonzales
I couldn’t believe I had scored a 5 on my AP Biology exam. I had studied for weeks for the test and it felt like all of my hard work had finally paid off.
The next day, I proudly told my AP Biology teacher the good news after class. “I got a 5!” I told him, beaming with enthusiasm. I was shocked when I read his face. He looked surprised and almost disgusted. “Really?” he bellowed. “YOU got a perfect score?”
I don’t remember exactly how I reacted that day. I was excited, embarrassed, angry, hurt and very uncomfortable. I was so conflicted. I can remember thinking that maybe he was right. Maybe it was a mistake.
I know for sure that I made myself just a little bit smaller to make HIM feel more comfortable with MY SCORE.
I also remember tucking my excitement away and barely sharing the news with my peers.
I finished the class without another particularly memorable moment beyond the regularly scheduled dissections and review of cells under a microscope.
On the last few days of class, many of us passed our yearbooks around for signatures. Despite the lack of enthusiasm from Mr. AP Bio, I politely asked if he minded adding a quick note for me.
I probably should have known better. My note from Mr. AP Bio read something to the effect of: I am surprised you passed this class. Looking out at students on the first day, I always thought you would be a ‘gamer,’ but I guess you did it.
This experience and a few other run-ins, including a slightly belligerent math teacher, resulted in my pursuit of another learning path, one that no longer included science.
I would like to think that my AP Biology experience didn’t single-handedly crush my dreams of pursuing some type of career in science, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t at least leave a dent.
I am the “first” for many things in my family, therefore, most of my drive came from external mentors and teachers.
Thankfully, there were some encouraging ones along the way, but who knows who I might have become if Mr. AP Bio had shown an ounce more of excitement.
By Alyssa Briggs
It’s Sunday evening and I am in my regular routine – tuned into the weekly 60 Minutes broadcast. Then, 60 Minutes told its viewers about a challenge that so many of us in the STEM education / learning profession already understand: Women are woefully underrepresented in high tech jobs in the United States.
I thought about myself, my sister, my two daughters, my mother and my grandmother. Not one of us studied science, technology, engineering or math in college. For my grandmother and mother, there were not too many options.
For my sister and me, it’s a little more fuzzy. There were more options for us. I suspect that much of our decision to not pursue STEM as a field of study had to do with the fact that no one else in our family had studied STEM or worked in a STEM profession.
But there was something else – a meeting with my eighth grade guidance counselor to plan my high school courses. As “a good student” all courses should have been open to me, but the counselor kept stressing classes where I would “use my creativity” and “desire to help others.” I didn’t talk about how I loved math and for fun, used to multiply three digits by three digits in my head. And I didn’t bother sharing that my favorite class was eighth grade science where we launched a rocket, hooked up to a car battery, on the playground.
So, with her urging I followed the humanities track – literature, history, language, art, social studies and journalism courses – with limited science and math. My last science class, ever, was basic biology. (I dissected a frog, but wasn’t in advanced biology where they got to examine a pig. I also never got to build the Rube Goldberg machine in physics.)
Despite my lack of science and math experience beyond middle school, I still believe I had a good education. Nevertheless, I can’t stop wondering: What did I miss? And more alarmingly, did I steer my now-grown and college-educated daughters away from STEM?
I may bottle up that parental guilt in the same vile where I store musings about being a working mom, allowing my children to eat processed foods and other probable missteps. Or, perhaps I am merely reflecting on the growth trends I read about in technology and science everyday.
The bottom line for me is that women are missing out on some of the highest paying and creative jobs available today and, more importantly, we are not represented in work that has the most promise to change the world.
And about that rocket on the playground, I’m still thinking about ways we could have made it land on the swing set if we would have just made a few adjustments.
From the Inside
Lowering Barriers for Other Women and Girls
By Veronica Gonzales and Alyssa Briggs
In writing this blog, we realized that we, ourselves, might have been the girls listed in statistics who have been navigated away from pursuing STEM. Through sharing our stories, we found so many commonalities about feeling like STEM outsiders from a young age.
We are both proud to say that we are now insiders in the STEM world, even if it means we are working outside of a lab or technology firm. We are working to create more opportunities for today’s girls in STEM.
Veronica joined the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice in 2015 and is now the Deputy Director for the initiative.
Alyssa joined the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice in 2015 and is now the Director.
Bringing the change that will result in more girls pursuing STEM and computer science will require an understanding of what motivates girls and their choices of study. Numerous factors influence those choices, with stereotypes and role models playing a dominant role, according to many researchers, including those affiliated with the STEM NEXT Opportunity Fund.
Additionally, we must accept that girls are not genetically predisposed to underperform in STEM-related disciplines and recognize that the lack of significant female representation in STEM fields is a result of faulty social constructs.
Addressing those social constructs will, of course, take time and mighty push back on well-entrenched gender roles that are limiting for girls – like the weak pretty princess who has to be rescued by the strong and handsome prince.
By highlighting STEM’s intrinsic creativity and connection to real-world problems, it is possible to convince guidance counselors, parents and other influencers to help route girls to courses of study in science, technology, engineering and math.
This is critical – for so many reasons:
- We can’t afford to lose a generation of girls and women from STEM and computer science at the very moment when technology is offering so much promise to improve the world.
- Girls and women make up half of the world’s population and we can’t have great innovation without half of the population involved.
- Research shows that when girls and women are involved in innovation projects they seek ways to make them relevant to the world and solving problems.
- High-paying jobs in tech are plentiful and thousands are unfilled because of a lack of trained talent. This is an exciting opportunity for girls and women to finally level the playing field and shatter the glass ceiling that has confined women for generations.
We are both proud to be working with the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice where our 68 communities across the world have accepted the challenge of making STEM really accessible to girls.