Girls Need Relevance When Choosing Careers in STEM

This morning, we kicked off the symposium with an engaging keynote from Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director of the Boston Museum of Science and creator of the National Center for Technological Literacy. His presentation was both humorous and provocative, entitled – ”Science in the K-12 Schools: Oh My, do we have it WRONG!” He proceeded to talk about the need for relevance when presenting STEM subjects, especially for girls who generally seek connection to science and technology that promotes the “greater good.” Hence, their greater representation in medicine, bio-medical engineering, and the like. It’s not that these fields are easy, it’s simply that women often need the how and the why addressed when choosing career paths.

I appreciated his call for a greater understanding of how a car works versus weeks of study on volcanic activity. Nothing wrong with a proper understanding of plate tectonics, but kids do spend much more time in automobiles than inside volcanoes!

He went on to say that in the US we have a very murky understanding of what exactly engineers do. In his native Greece and throughout Europe, engineering is a highly regarded and better understood profession. Again, young people need relevance and connection in order to pursue these careers. He sited a study that suggests that sons and daughters of engineers are much more likely to pursue a comparable career. I must confess that my own study of aerospace engineering in undergraduate school was indeed inspired by my parents’ studies in chemical engineering at the University of Havana. I am sure that my mother was one of the few women in Cuba, perhaps in the world, studying engineering in 1960. I would say an SGS girl at her core!

I went on to present on a panel featuring some SGS signature “being there” experiences such as the Salish Seas expedition in grade 5, medical “board exams” in grade 6, “Future SGS” in grade 7, and “Mission” in grade 8. Based on the audience response, I would say that at SGS, we have “got it right.” Relevance and full exposure to STEM + the arts = STEAM makes for a winning equation.

I leave you with a definition of engineering that might serve as a starting point next time you discuss future careers with your daughter 🙂

The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation and safety to life and property.

The American Engineers’ Council for Professional Development