Let’s play a game. The rules are simple: tell me how the following groups of people are connected.
Round 1: Beyonce, Drake. Justin Bieber. Ariana Grande. Post Malone. Adele.
I bet it was pretty easy to name these six people as famous singers. Let’s do another one!
Round 2: Denzel Washington. Angelina Jolie. Jennifer Lawrence. Tom Hanks. Will Smith. Meryl Streep.
This one was also probably a piece of cake. All these names are award winning actors and actresses. Ready for your final round?
Round 3: Albert Einstein. Rosalind Franklin. George Washington Carver. Marie Curie. Isaac Newton. Barbara McClintock.
Ok, I bet you could use your context clues to figure that one out. But chances are that there might have been some names in that list of scientists that you weren’t familiar with. Why is it that women are much more celebrated in some careers rather than others? And while every career field has a long ways to go in terms of equal representation, science, technology, engineering, and math are especially struggling.
Let’s take a look at some data collected by the Pew Research Center about women’s representation in STEM careers.
Even though women’s representation has increased in leaps and bounds in some fields, there is still a large underrepresentation in many fields, specifically in physical science, computer science, and engineering.
Unfortunately, Black and Hispanic people are also very underrepresented in these fields. Pew also did research on these groups and found disproportionate representation in many similar fields. Here are there results below:
We see this trend because women and minority scientists often face discrimination and mistreatment in these careers. They are passed up for promotions and raises in favor of white men, and deal with prejudice everyday. Also, society in general has convinced these populations that they do not belong in STEM fields. This occurs in our educational systems, governmental institutions, and in our culture in general. This sounds like a pretty bleak outlook, yet there is potential for change.
How are we bridging the gap?
Fortunately, there is a lot of work happening to encourage underrepresented populations to participate in STEM careers. I want to take some time to highlight a few scientists that are doing groundbreaking work to promote STEM equity.
Dr. Lyndsey McMillon-Brown
Dr. McMillon-Brown graduated from Miami University with degrees in mechanical and manufacturing engineering. She went on to earn her Ph.D. from Yale, and she now works at NASA as a research engineer. Her research focus is in solar energy, and she also promotes equity in STEM through serving as a NASA Student Ambassador and founding the Society of Women Engineers Grad Chapter.
As a student ambassador, she has the opportunity to speak to schools about what she does, showing students particularly girls and POC that they can succeed in science!
Check out this article she wrote in Nature about implementing diversity and inclusion efforts at scientific conferences!
Dr. Bruce Ovbiagele
Dr. Ovbiagele is a Neurology Professor and Associate Dean at University of California, San Francisco researching how to better stroke outcomes in underserved and minority communities in his area.
He holds positions on the Minority Scholars Subcommittee and Education Committee of the American Academy of Neurology and uses this influence to promote equity in his field. He also is a visiting professor at Morehouse College School of Medicine where he seeks to encourage a new generation of Black physicians.
Ms. Gómez is the CEO and founder of Atipica Inc., a company with a goal to use artificial intelligence to help employers construct teams with greater diversity. She also is a founding member of Project Include, which promotes diversity and inclusion in the technology sector.
She is passionate for helping girls find their passion in technology and helping them realize that they have so much potential to accomplish great things. In order to advocate for this, she became involved in the TechWomen Program in 2012.
Learn more about her company below:
Dr. Maryam Mirzakhani
Dr. Mirzakhani was a Stanford professor and mathematician who won the highest prize in mathematics in 2014, the Fields Medal, for her contributions to the fields of theoretical mathematics.
She was known for being ambitious and without fear in her quest to solve problems and preferred to tackle harder questions rather than easier ones any time she got the chance.
Growing up in Iran in an all-girls school, she was emboldened to pursue mathematics and supported by her administration. This love of math helped her to gain her Ph.D. despite a language barrier and become a brilliant problem-solver.
She will be remembered as an inspiration to many women and immigrants who see her as an example of what they are capable of.
While these scientists inspire awe and offer amazing examples of women and minorities excelling in STEM fields, how can we make this applicable to our students?
How can we change our classrooms?
I want to close by offering three methods for educators to change our classrooms to highlight diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. This is not by any means an exhaustive list, and these methods can be adapted any number of ways to meet the specific needs of your students.
Erasing the Scientist Stereotype
Many studies have been performed asking students of all ages to draw a scientist. Unsurprisingly, a majority of students draw a white man in a lab coat with crazy white hair (ring a bell?). Fortunately the number of people who draw female scientists has been on the rise (check out the data here), there is still a ways to go in changing what students think of when they hear “scientist”.
Teachers can aid this process by placing posters with diverse scientists around the room and humanizing scientists. Too often, scientists are seen as lifeless robots whose sole purpose in life is to grow bacteria. Teachers can discuss important scientific discoveries (made by diverse scientists) and delve into each one’s story of how they came to be a scientist. This will help students to relate to these people and start breaking down the stereotype they have of scientists.
This video sums it up nicely:
Employing Diverse Guest Speakers
A great way to encourage STEM equity in the classroom is to bring in (physically or via Zoom) a diverse array of scientists to show students what they look like in the flesh. Getting to meet a Black scientist, or an immigrant scientist can really change kids’ perspectives on who can be a scientist. Also, students might be able to see people that look like them doing things they never even considered as a possibility or were too scared to even try. Seeing someone who has already taken that step can help pave the way for them to enter into the STEM field.
Even more than that, bringing in guest speakers is just fun in general. It engages students, and it links the outside world with the classroom. Plus, you might even learn something new!
Encouraging Passion in STEM Topics
Finally, the biggest way that we can encourage diversity and equity in STEM is by igniting a passion for these fields in our students. Because at the end of the day, if a student does not enjoy what they are learning, chances are they will not choose to continue down that path.
This is why engaging students is so critical for their future success in a STEM field. And luckily for us, science, technology, engineering, and math are full of wildly interesting topics that are so widespread and apparent in each student’s life. It is all about finding that one thing that elicits a personal response from a student and hooking them into the amazing world of STEM.
I want to leave you with a new definition for STEM, one that applies directly to you as a future science educator: In Science Teaching, Everyone Matters.
Catch you later!