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Panelists argued that the perception—particularly among women—that careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are reserved for gifted students are unsustainable for the future of STEM fields at a forum Wednesday evening.
In the discussion, an Askwith Forum held at the Graduate School of Education and titled “A Space of Their Own? Girls, Women, and STEM,” panelists said that this change could occur by expanding and repackaging the educational resources available to those who might be interested in challenging, technical fields.
President of Harvey Mudd College Maria Klawe, one of the panelists, said there is shortage of workers in the STEM field, adding that women are an untapped labor resource that could help plug the gap.
“People are really realizing that we need many more people to graduate with computer science who currently do not go into that discipline,” Klawe said.
Technical fields are often framed as careers for genius levels of intelligence, and these cultural biases can raise doubts among students about whether they belong in such roles, said panelist Jane Margolis, a senior researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
“There [are] such deep notions of intelligence and capacity,” Margolis said, “and in this country, I think that culture is a ghost that accompanies people every step of the way.”
Margolis stressed the need for female students to know computer science, saying that all citizens need to engage with technology for the sake of political empowerment.
“Computer science is affecting every single solitary aspect of our lives. It’s affecting our culture, and it’s affecting democratic participation,” said Margolis. “It’s a civil rights issue, and it’s a democracy issue in today’s world.”
Speaking of ways to tear down the barriers to STEM, astronaut Stephanie D. Wilson from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration underscored the importance of providing role models for young women interested in these careers.
“It is important to be able to visualize the end of the road, and as you see that visualization, that you see a clear path to get there,” said Wilson.
Panelists also emphasized increasing exposure to and knowledge of computer science early on in girls’ educational careers through school courses and outside support programs.
“That kind of seeds the interest for them to continue along that path,” said panelist Kimberly Bryant, founder of STEM training program Black Girls CODE. “I think there’s a lot of policy that needs to happen on the educational side, both at the local and federal levels, to make that happen.”
—Staff writer Gabrielle M. Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GabWilliams23.
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