December 11th 2023.
The benefits of early exposure to foreign languages, music, travel, and sports on a child's developing brain are well-studied. The same holds true for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Early exposure to STEM activities can become an integral part of the intellectual scaffolding upon which other disciplines and interests thrive.
But what if the young girls in your life are already past those early years? What if they are more likely to be found studying Geometry than reading Dr. Seuss? It is important to remember that late-blooming STEM Gems are no less impressive. All women, regardless of age, are capable of erecting skyscrapers of the mind.
Talking STEM is a great way to help young women recognize the possibilities in the world around them. STEM is everywhere - from the car that takes your daughter to soccer practice, to the street angles where your neighbor girl does trick skateboarding. Parents and adults don't have to be STEM-oriented to help young girls recognize the STEM possibilities in everyday life.
I was fortunate enough to have parents who intentionally demonstrated the fundamentals of STEM all around us. My mom was a walking calculator, always looking for the best deal. My dad was a firm believer that girls should work with tools and throw balls, not just play with dolls. Through their actions and words, my siblings and I learned the fundamentals of physics. After these experiences, learning about force and acceleration in high school was intuitive.
Not every girl has the benefit of building cardboard cityscapes and sharing a dinner table with a woman in STEM. It’s important to show them that STEM role models are closer than they think. They can be found in books, magazines, online, and local events. In addition, there are many programs and initiatives, both in summer and year-round, that can help girls become more exposed to STEM. By being part of a room full of like-minded individuals engaged in a unifying project or experience, girls can find their tribe and become energized.
Seeing women in STEM roles is critical to combatting the inevitable disparaging remarks that girls who show an interest in STEM sometimes face. It is also important to pay attention to the media's portrayal of STEM roles and help the young women in your life have meaningful conversations about the perception of STEM.
Above all, approaching science, technology, engineering, and math with intentionality is the best way to ensure future generations of women are well-represented in STEM fields. Talking STEM, seeing STEM, and exposure to STEM should be consistent. With the right guidance and support, girls can become empowered to shine in STEM fields.
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