Inspiring Kids to Embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
We are here today to honor a special holiday—National S.T.E.M. Day.
Celebrated on November 8th, this is an occasion to inspire children “to explore and pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
The first letter in each of these disciplines equals S.T.E.M.!
Why S.T.E.M. Is Important
According to the US Department of Labor, the ten fastest growing occupations are found in S.T.E.M areas.
In our technology-dominated world, it is hardly surprising that the future lies in these disciplines.
However, two problems are stalling our progress.
For starters, it is clear that the United States has fallen behind many other nations when it comes to science and math education. Therefore, it is crucial that we motivate kids to pursue these subjects.
Secondly, the US is experiencing an alarming gender gap when it comes to S.T.E.M.-related careers, an issue we will examine below.
The Gender Gap
Women make up half of the national workforce and earn more college and graduate degrees than men, yet they are poorly represented in high-end, math-intensive fields like computer science and engineering.
In 1970, women in S.T.E.M. made up 7 percent of the workforce, according to the US Census Bureau. That number jumped to 23 percent by 1990 but has since leveled off, with women today representing around 26 percent of the total science workforce.
While women tend to be well represented in biological sciences, psychology, and medicine, they are underrepresented in disciplines like engineering and computer science. So, while at least half of Internet users are women, almost all of the software is being built by men.
The gender gap in S.T.E.M. is clear, but the reasons for it are less obvious.
Many cultural factors probably contribute to girls being underrepresented in scientific and mathematical fields—from the fact that they are often steered into other professions from an early age and also as the result of gender bias in employment.
What is important to point out, however, is that a gender gap in S.T.E.M. actually has deep consequences that extend well beyond equal opportunities in the job market.
Simply put, under-representation of women in S.T.E.M. has a direct impact on the quality of research that is being conducted in a variety of fields, which affects ALL of us—women and men alike.
For example, for decades, the prevalent model used in biomedical research was based on the physiology of an average male. This meant that much research did not take into account the female hormone fluctuations, which could impact research results.
The good news is that this research bias was corrected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the primary US agency responsible for health-related research.
The NIH has requested that their researchers test their theories on female tissues and cells, thus including sex as a variable in experimental design.
For many, this is considered a dramatic paradigm shift and a big step in the right direction to both improving research results and making scientific fields more attractive (and relevant!) to women.
Here at UC Davis, we are quite conscious of the gender gap.
To help educate people (men and women alike), a blog called Our Voices: Empowering Women to Succeed has been created with the goal of encouraging women in the S.T.E.M. fields.
Here is an amazingly tasty recipe for Peanut Butter Fudge Truffles to enjoy as you celebrate National S.T.E.M. Day.