According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, women make up less than one-quarter of those employed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) occupations in the United States. Not only does this mean that women in STEM remain a disproportionate minority, but it also contributes to STEM field underemployment in the U.S., with not enough properly trained candidates to fill science and technology jobs. There are so many factors that lead to female underrepresentation in these fields that it seems impossible to know how to start solving the issue. However, we do know that many of these contributing factors begin at a young age. A Microsoft study done last year found that the number of young girls interested in the STEM fields peaks in elementary and middle school, then dwindles throughout high school and afterward. Programs such as OSC’s Summer Institute (SI) and Young Women’s Summer Institute (YWSI), focused on exploring science and technology, are incredible tools for sparking interest and boosting confidence toward STEM in young girls.
Seventh grade was the one year of school when I absolutely loved science. It was also the only year that my science teacher was clearly passionate about the subject he was teaching, and he wanted to give us, his students, the best possible set-up for success. He connected with us through stories and humor and taught in a way that made us feel as though the knowledge he had was accessible to us too. That year, getting an A+ in biology was not just for “gifted” students, or students who performed exceptionally well on the Ohio Achievement Assessment, but for anyone who put in the time and effort. That teacher possesses something many teachers do not: the ability to make his students feel not only that the information they’re learning is important and relevant, but also that they’re entirely capable of learning it. The issue with female underrepresentation in STEM may not simply be that girls are disinterested, but that they don’t have the right support systems to unlock that feeling of capability and validity inside of them.
“The reasons [for disinterest] range from peer pressure, to a lack of role models and support from parents as well as teachers, to a general misperception of what STEM careers look like in the real world,” the Microsoft study said.
The same study noted that “girls who are in STEM clubs and activities outside of school report a higher confidence in knowing how to pursue a STEM-related career than those who are not.” It also found that 75 percent of middle school girls who participate in STEM clubs or activities say they feel powerful while doing those activities. These activities are a great way to combat the negative societal pressures on women in STEM.
OSC’s YWSI is one of the best opportunities for Ohio girls to explore their STEM interests and leave with a renewed sense of belonging and capability in their chosen field. According to a 2004 YWSI study, 88 percent of parents said that their child had greater confidence in math and science classes at school after attending YWSI, and many said their child showed strong interest in pursuing a career in math and science. Programs such as YWSI help girls see that they are not alone in these interests and that they are supported by people who want to see them learn and succeed. Jean Weasler, a YWSI alumnus, noticed that her interest in a science-related career ultimately began when she attended the Institute.
“The Young Women Summer Institute is a good experience for [participants] to interact with other girls who are interested in science and have an aptitude for science… and to see that a career in science is something that’s attainable for them,” Weasler said.
From the perspective of a former camp counselor, I can also safely say that the benefits of camp are far more than just educational. Summer camp, in any form, can and will enhance team-building skills, social interactions, and one’s ability to make friends within a matter of days. One of the main issues regarding female underrepresentation in STEM is a lack of support from teachers and parents at a young age, and camp is an experience that will make these girls feel supported and believed-in. There is something about being with the same small group of people for a week or so, all working to accomplish common goals, that really establishes assurance both in personal ability and group endeavors. Camp creates a community of like-minded people who support each other and unlocks that same feeling of capability and confidence that my seventh-grade science teacher did years ago.
If you think your child might be interested in applying for YWSI or SI, click here for more information.