Tinker Academy at Sonoma State has just finished its first two-week summer program for middle-school girls. The program has been established to entice and inspire girls in the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
A 2017 Update of Women in STEM by the U.S. Department of Commerce showed that women are underrepresented in STEM jobs and degrees—considered essential for future careers. Here are some of the stats:
· While women filled 47% of all U.S. jobs in 2015, they held only 24% of STEM jobs. This is of serious concern since proficiency in these subjects is deemed crucial to the generation of new ideas, the invention of new patents, and the creation of critical thinking required in the increasingly technologically driven economy.
· Even women with degrees in STEM areas are more likely to work in education or healthcare than in the four basic areas represented by the acronym.
· The largest share, 43%, of women in STEM-related fields is in the physical and life sciences, while the share of women in engineering is only at 14%.
So, what is holding girls back from pursuing the more practical STEM subjects? A UNESCO report names early socialization and negative stereotypes. The report says that while research on biological factors belies any factual basis for beliefs that STEM subjects are “masculine” and that female ability in these areas is inferior to males’, such beliefs persist and undermine girls’ confidence and willingness to engage in STEM subjects.
The Tinker Academy is one way to stem this antipathy to STEM. The free academy provides an all-female environment which allows the girls to be more comfortable engaging in the unfamiliar. One of the things they constructed during the camp was a pinball machine, for instance. Women speakers also shared their career stories in STEM areas, and the girls gained the benefit of their inspiration and mentorship. Providing projects that allow the girls to build and create has also been helpful in keeping their interest through the pre-college and college years, when it is likely to wane.
The program is a project of the Career Technical Education Foundation – Sonoma County and a partnership between the School of Science and Technology at Sonoma State and Community Women Investing in STEM Equity.
Sources: Press Democrat article by Susan Minichiello titled “Camp helps girls tackle tech” and fact sheets from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and UNESCO.org.
Photos: Top - National Girls Collaborative Project; bottom - Tinker Academy, photo by Beth Schlanker, The Press Democrat.