In recent years, there have been a lot of efforts to make STEM more accessible for female students and students of minority groups. As a high schooler, I took part in this evolution by attending a free and public STEM school. I was fortunate to have this opportunity to be supported as I explored my career and college options. Hopefully society will continue to make changes to get women and minorities more involved in STEM to close the STEM gap.
What is the “STEM gap?” Why is it there?
The STEM gap is the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields and it stems (no pun intended) from a student’s early experiences in school.
- The interest gap: There is research supporting that if children are told that they would only like an activity depending on their gender, they are less likely to try the activity if they are not that gender; if they are told that both boys and girls like to do an activity, they are more likely to try it (source)
- The stereotype that boys are more scientific than girls starts early in childhood: There is evidence to support that the perception that boys are more interested in computers and engineering appears in children as young as 6 (source)
- The confidence of teachers in their ability to do science: It is possible that teachers in early education classrooms do not feel comfortable doing STEM activities with their young students because they do not feel confident enough in their ability to do accurate science (source)
The lack of STEM experiences early in life leads to stats like these…
Takeaways from the above statistics:
- white women, Black men and women, and Hispanic men and women are all underrepresented in science and engineering occupations
- white men, Asian men, and Asian women are overrepresented in science and engineering occupations
- women have high participation, and are even overrepresented, in social sciences and biosciences, but have low participation in economics, computer sciences, physics, and engineering – earning as low as 18% of the bachelor’s degrees in those fields
Inspire interest in STEM for all
- take your students to the margins: encourage your students to investigate something they are interested in, and allow them to teach you and their peers about it!
- bring natural phenomena into the classroom wherever possible
- do project-based learning: have students complete projects that include the scientific method or the engineering design process