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Understanding the STEM field
The STEM acronym is a quick way to refer to the academic and professional fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — fields traditionally dominated by men. STEM careers encompass the obvious — engineering, computer programming and medical research — but there are lesser-known career opportunities based on math and science. Parents can encourage STEM careers for their daughters by investigating those that fit her current interests and passions.
STEM careers for artists:
- Graphic designer
- Website designer
^STEM careers for girls who love nature:
- Tornado chaser
- Underwater archaeologist
^STEM careers for girl gamers:
- Software engineer
- Video game programmer
- Social roboticist
^STEM careers for animal lovers:
- Wildlife biologist
- Deep-sea research
^STEM careers for innovative thinkers:
- Forensics investigator
- Biometrics and tissue engineer
Breaking through the STEM barrier
Women make up about half the job force in the U.S., but they only account for approximately a quarter of the STEM jobs in America. Girls and their perception of their abilities is a factor in this "STEM Gap." When surveyed, 29 percent of male high school students voiced interest in STEM careers, with only 19 percent of female students interested in the same careers. Even among students who ranked their technology skills as "above average," the gap between male and female interest in STEM careers was 44 percent interest for males and 29 percent interest for females.
Encourage your daughter in STEM subjects
Dr. Susan Choi, Dean of the Division of Math and Science, Camden County College, New Jersey, has years of practical experience in the STEM fields. She has a Ph.D. in chemistry and worked for DuPont for eight years in the Central Research and Development Center and in Nylon Intermediates and Specialty Polymers before becoming a professor. Dr. Choi offered four concrete suggestions about how to encourage your daughter to consider STEM courses while in school and in her future career.
- Encourage any interests your daughter may show by providing opportunities for her to explore math or science. This does not have to involve expensive purchases or experiences — you can grow sugar crystals in your kitchen. If you are throwing away something mechanical, first sit together and take it apart to see how it works, keep a journal on the weather or chart the number of ants entering an ant hole versus leaving. Help her to notice the world around her and to make observations.
- Talk about what is going on around you during your daily activities. Ask your daughter how she thinks something works or why we might do something a certain way. Whether or not she is correct, she is engaging in a scientific discussion. Asking a question and forming a hypothesis is the beginning of the scientific method.
- Math is power. Encourage your daughter to take math continuously throughout junior high and high school. Mathematics trains your mind to think critically and to solve problems. These are skills that are useful no matter what field she may choose. Math is the gatekeeper to many STEM careers. A strong mathematical foundation keeps all career options open for your child as she learns more about the many careers and fields that are available. Without math, doors start to close.
- Maintain high expectations for all of her coursework, including math and science. Avoid negative, defeating comments and don't underestimate her abilities. Messages, even subtle ones, are powerful. Having your support can make all the difference.
The bottom line
A STEM career might not be on your daughter's radar right now, but keeping the door open to those careers through the encouragement of critical thinking and math skills can give her a more solid foundation for any career. Remind her, on Women's Equality Day and every day, you believe she can accomplish anything — and help her develop a plan for whatever that may be.