Monday, October 22, 2012

"Keeping the 'T' in STEM"

In 1994, Laura Reasoner Jones started an after school club called Girls Excelling in Math and Science (GEMS Club) to encourage girls to engage in STEM activities and spark their interest in STEM career fields.  Over the past 18 years, Jones says they've had a ball and the girls have thrived.

This year, Jones wants to do something she hasn't done before: motivate girls to embrace technology as creators, not users. Since it's been easy to offer experiences and activities in the other three STEM components (science, engineering and math) Jones wants to focus her energy on breaking down the barriers that keep women and young girls away from technology.

Jones explains that early exposure to IT can build confidence in girls, and encourage them to pursue future educational opportunities in the field. Even better, careers in IT are plentiful, high-paying and meaningful.

Despite the facts, enrollment and participation in computing classes has been dropping steadily since the 1980s, and fewer and fewer women are graduating with computer science or IT degrees. There's two problems here: girls are missing out on great career opportunities, and the world is missing out on their talents and perspectives as women.

Jones says that there are several resources we can look at to overcome this dilemma. The National Center for Women and Information Technology offers educators 60 downloadable ideas, including Computer Science in a Box, which teaches the premises of computing without the use of machines. Then there's Alice (, a program that encourages children, particularly girls, to explore computer science and programming.

While the programs Jones mentions may spark an interest in IT, a girl won't really be enticed unless she feels comfortable in the area. Jones encourages everyone to look around the computer lab/room where girls learn. If the room looks like a locker room or "man cave," educators may want to consider transforming the room to a place where girls and boys of all cultures are welcome with posters of successful men and women alike. 

We can all work together to make technology inviting and not intimidating for girls - let's do it!

To read more of Jones' commentary, click here.