Inspire Change: Easing ‘Girls in STEM’ into the Roles of ‘Women in STEM’

There are many reasons for students to think about a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM). Perks such as job security, high salaries, and the possibility of innovation are all things to consider when prospective students seek a career in one of the STEM fields.

Jobs in the STEM fields are among the most in-demand and highest paying, but these types of openings often go unfilled for longer periods of time in comparison to non-STEM jobs. According to a Brooking’s study, the median duration of advertising for a STEM vacancy is more than twice as long as for a non-STEM vacancy. This indicates that the skills critical for working in STEM are low in supply, but highly sought after.

So if STEM is such a hotbed of potential, why are there not more men and women attempting to break into these fields? One major factor that may explain this discrepancy is the glaring underrepresentation of females in STEM fields. Women who attempt to pursue careers in STEM are often faced with a multitude of issues, extending from the mere fact that they are female, that hinders or discourages career advancement. There is, consequently, an untapped group of women, as well as a new generation of young women, who would otherwise be interested in seeking those careers, but are taught that STEM is for “boys only”.

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, women make up 50 percent of the entire labor pool, yet they only hold 25-30 percent of STEM jobs in the United States. This underrepresentation of women proves to be socially relevant, as it demonstrates that the fields of study within STEM are still largely divisive and exclusively gendered to favor men.

Current women who work in STEM face many problems that help account for the overarching gap in female representation within these fields. One potential issue is workplace hostility or discomfort, which can strongly impact perceived levels of work enjoyability. Evidence of this ongoing problem is supported by the research findings of a three-year study done by Nadya Fouad, an educational psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Fouad and her colleagues surveyed more than 5,000 women who had graduated with engineering degrees from some of the top universities within the last six decades. They found that 40 percent of the women surveyed had either quit their jobs or never entered their engineering professions at all.

According to Fouad, the gender gaps have less to do about confidence, and more to do with the unaccommodating climate of the workplace.

“We found that even women who are staying consider leaving because they don’t have supervisor support. They don’t have training and development opportunities. And their colleagues are uncivil to them, belittle them, talk behind their backs and undermine them,” said Fouad.

Yet, in elementary, middle and high school, the gender distribution of total students enrolled in science and mathematics classes is roughly even. Despite a relatively equal playing field to start off in, men, by far, dominate as the majority of those in careers related to STEM. This divergence visibly occurs at the college level, where only a small percentage of women attempt to pursue STEM-related undergraduate degrees. Female representation declines even more at the graduate level.

For whatever reason, it appears that girls are seemingly more likely than boys to fall away or lose interest with STEM. To remedy the issue, it is argued that it is crucial for educators and parents to encourage young girls to maintain interest in STEM by consistently showing them positive role models and providing broader opportunities to learn the skills that are necessary in the STEM fields.

The necessity of teaching today’s youth to develop the types of skills utilized in STEM has also been reiterated by President Barack Obama, who has repeatedly expressed the belief that the future of America heavily depends on the strength of the current education system to instill the new generations of students with the kind of critical thinking abilities that are an absolute necessity in STEM professions.

As the pressure to change the way women are viewed and treated in the STEM fields mounts, there has been a greater push for more initiatives that empower girls to participate and engage in learning about STEM. From engagement campaigns like Million Women Mentors that call for corporations, government entities and higher education groups to put more emphasis on mentoring young girls, to an entire video series dedicated to highlighting the accomplishments of various women in their STEM roles, there are many people currently working in STEM who are choosing to rally together to shed light on the gender issues within the STEM community.

These collective efforts, on the part of individuals and corporations alike, show that change starts from within. In this case, change starts by allowing science, technology, engineering and mathematics, to be accessible to all, regardless of gender.

Who are the mentors in your STEM community? What do they do that helps encourage both boys and girls to study STEM? Answer in the comments below.


STEM Works Remembers 9/11

It’s impossible to go throughout this day, September 11th, without acknowledging the extent of the impact that the terrorist attacks had on America and its citizens. In the wake of the 13th anniversary of the attacks, those of us at STEM Works wanted to show how STEM has been utilized throughout the aftermath processes of identifying victims, surveying the  damage and rebuilding Ground Zero.

Identifying Victims with Forensics 

After the initial attacks, at least 1,115 out of at least 2,753 victims remained unidentifiable, even after scientists analyzed DNA samples provided by the families of those with missing loved ones who never came home or were never identified. Despite painstaking work over the years from scientists in New York to match bone fragments to an actual identity, restraints in technology left many victims unidentified. However, recent technological advances in DNA testing and forensic identification have given both scientists and families a renewed sense of hope as these DNA tests yield results that would have been impossible 10 years ago. Scientists previously faced the challenge of identifying victims using bone slivers that contained DNA that had been damaged by fire, sunlight, bacteria, or jet fuel. Using the new technology, scientists are able to go back to the same bone fragment and attempt to extract the damaged DNA for testing. Read more here.

Engineering a Better World Trade Center

Considered a testament to the perseverance of the American spirit, the five-year re-construction projects of the new World Trade Center and National September 11 Memorial and Museum are shown in this behind-the-scenes documentary, made by PBS, in cooperation with NOVA, to demonstrate the many various challenges and high expectations that engineers and architects faced to build a stronger, taller, and safer World Trade Center. Watch Engineering Ground Zero

Engineers played a huge role in both clean up and re-building. PBS has also created a number of valuable resources to teach the public about how engineers assisted with rescuing victims, surveying the damage, and preventing unstable structures from falling and potentially injuring more people. Check out these resources here at Engineering the Clean-Up.

Other 9/11 Lesson Plan Resources

  • The National September 11 Memorial & Museum partnered up with New York City’s Department of Education and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education to develop a different sets of K-12 lesson plans to teach about 9/11. Find them here.
  • Scholastic has created and collected a number of resources to teach 9/11 to the younger kids. Find these resources here.
  • Pearson has created guides and online modules for both elementary and middle school students, parents and teachers. Find them here.
  • McGraw Hill offers a number of activities and lesson plans to teach students about 9/11. Find them here.

Tell us, STEM lovers, how are you choosing to remember 9/11? Comment below.

A School Year of STEM Reading

As the month of August nears a close, the nip in the air is back, which signals the start of a brand new school year. Between the hustle and bustle of soccer games and homework, it’s often difficult for students to find spare time for extracurricular reading. Yet, helping your student find that extra hour to read instead of watching television or playing video games may be the key to overall improvement in school performance, according to research done by the University of London. Without a good book though, reading may be more painful than pleasurable. Finding engaging books may be a challenge, which is why we’ve compiled a list of resources that will help your student find a STEM-related book that he or she will actually enjoy reading.

STEM Reading for Teens: A reading list created by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the best STEM Reads.

Suggested Reading: Cinder by Marissa Meyer


Cyborg Cinder, a talented mechanic living in the disease and alien-ridden area of New Beijing, meets Prince Kai when he brings in a robot for repair. As their lives intertwine, Cinder is forced to uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her future.

Women in Science: Goodreads list of STEM-related titles about women.

Suggest Reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


The creation of the polio vaccine, as well as extensive science research, including information about cancer and viruses, all began from the cells of one Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American tobacco farmer. Henrietta’s cells were harvested and used for research without her knowledge or consent. Her complicated story was the catalyst for the development of bioethics.

STEM Read: Science Behind the Fiction: Program developed by Northern Illinois University to encourage STEM engagement through reading.

Suggested Reading: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Several years after the initial alien invasion on Earth, Ender Wiggins is recruited to train at a battle school in space to prepare for the next attack. As he trains on the space station, Ender is forced to face increasingly difficult questions about humanity, isolation and the morality of warfare.

RocketSTEM: Online magazine with content focused on fostering a love of STEM within parents, teachers and students.

Other Suggested Readings:

Adaptation by Malinda Lo

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Matched by Ally Condie

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

Starters by Lissa Price

The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The Art of Tinkering by Karen Wilkinson

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The Compound by S.A. Bodeen

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

When We Wake by Karen Healey

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

So STEM lovers, which books did we miss? What’s your favorite STEM-related book? Tell us in the comments section!

Encouraging STEM By Engaging Parents

Here at STEM Works, we absolutely adore our Twitter followers because they are a fantastic group of individuals who willingly come together for inspiration, advice, and to share their love of STEM with the world.

As of late, we have initiated a number of Twitter discussions using #STEMWorksDiscussions. We recently asked our Twitter followers the following question:

How do we engage parents in order to drive interest in STEM at school?

Twitter didn’t disappoint, so we’ve compiled a list of their answers, as well as a collection of ideas and resources to help drive STEM via parent engagement.

“Invite them to a school STEM night and show them how great it can be!”


“[Our] school is hosting a 2 week STEM Festival utilizing parents and community members as STEM presenters.”


“A hands-on learning experience within school [ bridges] the gap between study & workforce.”


“Outreach work starting with 4 year olds! When children learn about doctors, we talk about STEM careers.”


Parental Engagement Resources

  • Parents are vital to the success of students, especially during the middle school years, a critical point in students’ educations. Middle schoolers are at a higher risk to lose focus and parental involvement also takes a hit. Prevent this with these tips for successful parental engagement from the Afterschool Alliance, available here.
  • A solid foundation in STEM is critical for the future of society, and we all know that kids are the key to the future. Here’s why we should teach our kids to embrace STEM by starting them young. Article here.  
  • Earlier this year, a panel of educators and experts at the U.S. News STEM Solutions conference discussed some of the often neglected methods of teaching and encouraging students, particularly those in the under-served and minority populations, to take an interest in STEM. Article here.
  • Keeping kids actively thinking, whether it’s after school or during summer vacation, is vital for long-term educational success. The National After School Network is a fantastic resource in offering strategies for parental engagement, available here.

Do you have ideas of your own for parental engagement? Comment on this post or send us a tweet @STEM_Works.

Celebrating the Month of the Military Child and What Makes Us Successful

Month of the Military ChildAs you’ve hopefully noticed, our focus on the STEM-Works team is to provide easy access to a vast array of engaging content related to STEM education, education advocacy, and innovative practices related to education.  We are dedicated to students of all ages and from all corners of the world but this month we’re excited to join forces with our military community and support the Month of the Military Child.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Military Child Education Coalition’s (MCEC) National Convening in DC. This event was focused on engaging education leaders from around the country in a critical discussion of how to best promote academic success for military and veterans’ children.  In preparation for this event, MCEC asked us to watch a few talks that set the stage for some of our discussions at this event.

The following video is a talk by Angela Lee Duckworth titled “The key to success? Grit.” In this talk, she describes her research and experience related to understanding what promotes success in people. You may be interested to find out that IQ isn’t what she identified as a key factor to success.

This video and the thoughts shared by Dr. Duckworth set the stage for one of the first exercises that we conducted at the conference – identifying our “sticky strengths.” It was such an interesting discussion, that I want to continue it with you all here.

Think about a strength (we’ll call it a “sticky strength”) that you developed during your childhood that has defined your success in your life and/or career.  For example, some of the characteristics that emerged from our discussion at the conference included resiliency, persistence, empathy, grit, and self-awareness.

So now we want to hear from you – what do you think your “sticky strength” is? What strength did you develop in childhood that has defined you over the years? How has this characteristic impacted your life and/or your career? I’ve started the discussion by sharing mine so join the conversation and share yours in the comments below!

Why we do what we do (and how we’re bridging the gap between our programs)


I wanted to start this post by thanking all of you who are taking the time out of your busy lives to check out our blog. On Friday, we officially hit the 6 month mark for this blog and were excited to surpass 5,000 visits to this site in that period. We are honored to be a part of such an incredible community and look forward to continuing sharing the STEM content, ideas, and stories that intrigue us. I hope that our blogs amuse, inform, and even sometimes challenge you and the way you think about and advocate STEM. We always welcome your thoughts and insight so please send us a note or comment on our posts to engage in this important conversation!

This week we hit the road to visit old and new friends in Colorado to host a CSI Teacher Workshop and CSI Camp-for-a-Day and thought it would be a great time to explain a little more about why we do the things we do and how our various efforts are more connected than they may seem at first glance.

We mentioned that our team works & lives all over the country, right?

We mentioned that our team works & lives all over the country, right?

As you may (or more likely not) have noticed, we have two distinct sets of programs within our STEM portfolio: our STEM websites (KidsAhead & STEM-Works) and our CSI camps (Summer camps, camps-for-a-day, and teacher workshops). The websites are the internationally-reaching arms of our portfolio and aim to provide students and advocates around the world with engaging STEM content from around the Internet. Since we pull quality STEM content from around the Internet, as well as add our own novel content, these sites are a great place to find all kinds of materials to advocate STEM (and in the case of KidsAhead, it’s a great place to have your students check out for content that interests them).

On the other side of the portfolio, we have our CSI Camps. This includes three different programs:

  • CSI Summer Camps: offered in Dallas, TX and include a full week of hands-on activities and engaging presentations from real world forensic scientists and law enforcement officials
  • CSI Camps-for-a-Day: a condensed version of our summer camps offered over the course of one day in military-connected communities (we’re headed to Colorado Springs now to meet our next group of teachers and students!)
  • CSI Teacher Workshop: a program geared toward teaching our SMU CSI curriculum to teachers and providing them with resources to successfully utilize this curriculum in their classrooms and communities

So, now that you have a basic overview of the work that we do, and in honor of our CSI events in Colorado this week, we decided to launch a special edition of our bi-monthly scavenger hunts on KidsAhead to bridge the divide between our websites and CSI programs. This scavenger hunt, which was launched yesterday, invites you to take part in the fun and help to solve a mock crime that is related to the one that was investigated this week at our CSI Camp-for-a-Day. For more information about this “Closing the Case” scavenger hunt please visit Try this challenge out and when you complete it and identify the perpetrator share your findings with us here !

Got Brains? Teaching STEM Zombie-style!

It isn’t all that uncommon for teachers and parents to hear students lament about their lack of understanding of how they will use particular skills or content they are learning in school in their real life. Here on the STEM-Works team, we will openly admit to being those kids (and adults). As STEM advocates, we feel like these kinds of questions are our opening to get students of all ages engaged in the world of STEM. As a result, we wanted to share some ideas to get you thinking outside your existing curriculum or advocacy materials and then get your thoughts on other ideas.

To start with, we are firm believers that if you find it cool, there’s at least a distinct chance that your students will as well (maybe not always, but we’re sure there are some common interests). For example, we recently stumbled on a Social Studies/Geography curriculum entirely based on Zombies. Using a project-based learning (or Zombie-Based Learning as the developer calls it), this curriculum provides a framework for students to learn important geography concepts by planning for and surviving a zombie apocalypse scenario. In addition to the curriculum being novel and engaging, it is standards-based, which makes it much easier to incorporate into traditional classrooms.  Check out the developer’s explanation of how he came up with this concept:

So think about it and share your thoughts! What concepts, TV Shows, or life events do you think would make a good curriculum or framework for STEM advocacy?