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Expert Panel: How to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers

This morning during a roundtable ‘Women in STEM Education and Careers’ (DeVry University, Atlanta, GA), an expert panel discussed how to improve the interest and participation of women in the STEM field.

The participants of the roundtable were: The Honorable Jan Jones (Georgia House of Representatives), Connie Haynes (FIRST for the State of Georgia), Gilda Lyon (Georgia Department of Education), Paulette Norvel Lewis (US Department of Labor), Kim Ruple (Coca Cola), Monica Thornton (Women in Technology). The moderator was Stephanie Miles-Richardson (Morehouse School of Medicine).

The recommendations brought up by the expert panel are listed below:

Start early

• The earlier girls are exposed to engineering concepts, the better.

• Avoid setting up toys based on gender stereotype; construction and car racing sets are great for girls as well.

• Keep challenging the child, even if it is 'hard work'. Parents can teach girls that math is hard, that is ok! It is important to reward tenacity and perseverance. It does take hard work to become good at STEM.

• Try to avoid using the calculator. Some people say the difference in performance between Asian kids and USA kids relates to the fact that Asian kids have learned to calculate without a machine at an early age.

Empower the teacher

• Provide the teacher with more opportunities to do ‘field trips’ in companies. By showing how a career looks like in the STEM field, it will become more attractive. There is an opportunity to ‘plant the seed’ early and provide a life-long motivation for a girl.

• Bring parents in the class and have them talk about their own STEM careers.

• Allow for failure; it is part of learning. Instead of focusing on the failure, make girls think about ‘what to do next’.

• Motivate the kids to have questions versus having the answers. It stimulates innovative thinking and is less about ‘checking a box’.

• Give equal responsibilities to girls and boys in teams. Don’t let girls become ‘the secretary of the team’. Consider single sex classes.

• Encourage mentorship and support for ‘first generation college students’. These students haven’t seen examples from their parents or their family. They can feel isolated in the school environment and therefore not encouraged to pursue their interest.

• Increase the Middle School support. By the age of 9, a girl is at the peak of her self esteem. The years after, this self esteem slides. More effort is needed for teenage girls to maintain their confidence in succeeding in STEM.

Provide real world examples

• For girls, it is important to show what a STEM career looks like. When STEM is explained in a way that it is about ‘becoming something’ it will motivate the girl more.

• Show instead of a curriculum, a real world scenario. The University of Baltimore started with putting new students in a lab environment. By grabbing their attention immediately, they performed much better throughout the program.

• Be creative with girls: show them that a Fashion career is a technology career! Technology is integrated in everything, so to present a clothing line requires a great deal of engineering, coding and calculation.

For more information about this Roundtable and STEM initiatives please send an email to:

Read more about the IWTT STEM project 'Girls Let's Build'.

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