Sometimes I see articles and websites that cause me to reflect and ask my own questions, such as the Girls in STEM poster created by EngineeringDegree.net titled “Girls are smarter than boys. But where are the women in science and math?” The infographic uses three themes to provide data about the status of women in science and engineering careers:
- Studies show that at an early age, girls are smarter than boys. Three data summaries are included in the infographic as measures of “smartness.” A summary of IQ scores notes the scores of girls at age 7 are 1.5 points higher than boys. There is also a graph comparing the number of science and math credits earned by high school boys and girls: although the girls’ number is higher, both have an average of between 7-8 courses. The final statistic is GPA in math and science courses, with girls at 2.75 and boys at 2.50. Although these differences may be statistically significant (we’d have to look at the primary research documents to find out), I wonder if the differences are large enough to be meaningful in decision-making about curriculum and instruction. I also wonder how others would define or measure “smartness” in students.
- Girls begin to question their ability because of their gender. Several graphs show a change in girls’ self-esteem and self-confidence. I thought the nuns who taught all of my science and math classes in high school were wonderful role models, exemplifying that girls do indeed belong in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers (or any other field). They never allowed us to question our ability or shrink from leadership roles, and I tried to channel this attitude with my students. I wonder what today’s teachers, parents, society, and media should do to encourage all students (including girls) to explore their interests, take on challenges, and ignore stereotypes?
- These feelings continue into college. The graphs show fewer women enrolled in science majors and working in STEM-related careers, especially in engineering. In my freshman university days there were two women in a chemistry class of 400. The professor glared at us and said, “Little girls don’t belong in my class.” It was a struggle to get through the course, and we resisted the temptation to change majors. I wonder what challenges women face today at the college level or in the workplace.
The data on the poster raise some questions that would be interesting to discuss: If girls and boys take basically the same number of courses and have similar grades, why do fewer girls major in math and science? Why do only 20% of women graduates in science and math work in a related field? How much talent is being overlooked? Why are we overlooking it?
It seems that this conversation has been going on for a long time. Why in the year 2012 are we still looking for ways to encourage girls’ and young women’s interest in science and careers in STEM-related fields?