Only a quarter of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math workers are women, but many educators are hoping to change that.
Only a quarter of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math workers are women, but many educators are hoping to change that. Computer Science teacher Keri Matthews, says that “most of the classes I have taught have been majority men. ” However, she acknowledges that “Computer Science has been and continues to be male-dominated.”
Hopkins Authentic Research Program in Science (HARPS) teacher Priscilla Encarnação, believes gender inequality is changing. “It’s interesting because this year’s HARPS class ha[s] 16 [girls] and 9 [boys]. I’ve found that women are more interested in life science whereas males are more interested in physical sciences. We help them equally in whatever they want to pursue.” Encarnação hopes the HARPS program will show the variety of STEM paths for women and men to pursue in their future academic careers: “The wealth of knowledge that has coupled with the rise of the internet has aided in this too. Layman’s exposure to science is far greater now than it ever has been.” Encarnação added “ there is far more variety at Hopkins than when I was growing up.”
However, a bias against girls in STEM still exists. Environmental Science teacher Allison Mordas believes this bias needs to be thought about and consciously avoided. “When I taught Anatomy and Physiology at Florida State, I had my students do a dissection of a fish. I saw a few sorority girls, with a manicure and a full face of makeup everyday, and I remember thinking ‘oh boy, I don’t know how they are going to react to this.’ They went right up into their elbows with that fish, so I try to be conscious to not categorize people.” Biology teacher Jennifer Stauffer describes how feedback from girls facing bias in STEM is crucial for eliminating bias at Hopkins. “There were some girls that came to me when I was Science Department Chair that had questions about girls in science here at Hopkins, and that discussion led to a forum on Women in Science where we read an article about gender bias in the
field of science.” The feedback from the Women in Science forum helped change how the Hopkins Science Department approached the science extracurricular program. Stauffer realized that students who are girls are more likely to put themselves in a men-dominated science program if someone reaches out and gives them supportive feedback. According to Stauffer, “this was very eye-opening to me, so I shared it with the Science Department.”
Teachers often share their own memorable research experiences to encourage girls to get involved in STEM careers. Mordas “did research on integression in plants, which is when two species of plants can exchange genes and create a hybrid. I also went to Costa Rica to do research on poisonous plants, and I got interested in insect-plant interactions, which is what I studied all the way through graduate school.” Mordas’ college does not give grades, and “when there isn’t the restriction of grades telling you how much is enough to get an A, you get further and further into your research.”
Encarnação discovered her passion for drug research through trying out different STEM areas. “My first interest was in animals. I always thought I was going to be a marine biologist. I saw pre-med and veterinary studies as some attractive options.” However, she found she is most interested in figuring out how things worked. Encarnação did an internship with a physical therapist, but did not enjoy working with patients as much. She found her interest when she “looked at drug research, the particular molecular targets that drugs hit, and that’s what I did for my PhD.”
After researching the role of titanium in sea squirts, Stauffer transitioned to teaching. She hopes she will be an influence for girls to pursue STEM careers: “Kids pick up on a teachers’ interest level in the subject and I do try to convey my enthusiasm for chemistry and biology.”