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The Case for Girls in STEM

By Holly Bailey

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Photo courtesy of Terri Oda

The classic gender stereotypes of the past may still linger | Photo courtesy of Terri Oda

 

By Holly Bailey | Staff Writer

October 25, 2013

As the end of October nears, seniors are scrambling to select their college major.

It is well known that many of the most lucrative and abundant occupations flow out of the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math.  The vast majority of these majors, however, are dominated by males.

In fact, only 24% of STEM careers were occupied by women in 2009 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics, and Statistics Administration.

With such a conspicuous absence of girls in an exceedingly prominent field, one question looms: why are ladies browsing other areas of study?

Today, as young college-bound women contemplate their numerous major and career options, they must take into consideration the impressive advantages a career in the sciences offers.

First and foremost is financial security.

According to Forbes’s 2012 compilation of the top ten highest paying majors, computer engineering tops the list with an average starting salary of $70,400. Another eight slots are occupied by mathematics and various engineering degrees, with the lone exception of finance, which takes the ninth position.

Mary Lou Bailey, a double major in both Physics and Biology at UCSB, knows firsthand the abounding opportunities – and money – her majors cater to, particularly physics.

Working in a condensed matter physics lab over the summer as part of a paid internship, this college junior has acquired experience in the real world industry. When not in the physics machine shop or lab, Bailey was hard at work programming for local research company Advanced Scientific Concepts Inc.

“Physics is hard work, but I thoroughly enjoy the subject,” Bailey said. “I’m thrilled to be able to work in my own field of interest and acquire valuable career experience.”

Through these jobs she was able to pay for most of her tuition.

Moreover, women who work in science, technology, engineering and math fields earn 33% more than their female counterparts in other fields, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

There is a demand for engineering graduates; on average they receive 2.5 job offers upon graduating.

With such an accessible field willing to pay high prices for a scarce supply of engineers, the prospects have never looked brighter for incoming STEM majors.

Nevertheless, females represent only a quarter of these innovators, a surprisingly low number given that 60% of all bachelor degrees in the U.S. are earned by women.

One possible explanation, explored in an article by the American Psychological Association, points to girls’ natural tendency and desire to work with others.

The study, conducted by psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles, PhD, and research scientist Mina Vida, found that women are more likely to pursue medical, environmental, biological and social sciences careers over mathematics and engineering vocations. They view the former as more people-oriented, and consequently bearing more value to society.

Dos Pueblos junior Aliya Berrelleza can testify to this reasoning. She aspires to attend her dream school Point Loma Nazarene University as a pre-med student, and her ultimate goal is to become a surgeon.

A bubbly personality by nature, when asked why she wishes to delve into this ambitious endeavor Berrelleza is quick to answer simply, “I like to help people. I like being around others.”

Although an engineering career is not in her foreseeable future, she maintains a respect and appreciation for the subject, acknowledging its benefits for society.

Although many other women may view mathematically-based science careers as cold and confining, they are as wholly capable as men in undertaking such a field.

study featured in Time magazine online used high school SAT scores to discover that women were even more versatile than men in displaying aptitude for both math and verbal reasoning.

Of the 1,500 college bound students sampled, two thirds of those who had the highest scores in both the math and verbal reasoning sections were female, compared to one third who were male.

These results illustrate the prominence of women’s arithmetic abilities. Such a find may be another key to why so few are in STEM.

Women’s versatility allows them more leverage in choosing a career to pursue. According to the study, many girls who excel in both math and verbal reasoning feel they have a broader range of options they can hone in on. Gender-oriented social norms, however, may nudge them towards exercising their strong English skills rather than their mathematical muscles.

Yet in the end it is truly the young person’s decision to make.

Everyone is endowed with different talents and strengths, but – contrary to popular belief in the past – more girls are capable of pursuing the sciences than are currently represented.

Female students should keep their options open and explore all that the STEM field has to offer.

They might just discover a genuine interest in it and become the one to develop the ultimate cure for cancer, that elusive flying car, or the perfect personal robot.

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1 Comment

One Response to “The Case for Girls in STEM”

  1. Cate Pane on October 30th, 2013 8:35 AM

    Holly,

    Your article is both comprehensive and compelling! Thankfully, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy has a policy of accepting 50% females in each of its annually-selected classes. Mr. Abo-Shaeer and his faculty are a model for equal participation in STEM learning.

    [Reply]

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The Case for Girls in STEM