How to encourage female students to pursue STEM fields

How to encourage female students to pursue STEM fields

Educators across the country understand the importance of encouraging students to pursue classes, degrees and careers in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math. The STEM fields offer students a number of opportunities to find engaging, challenging and fulfilling careers that can lead to significant contributions for their employers and society as a whole.

However, a number of economic, social, educational and other factors have created a disparity between the participation of men and women in STEM fields, with some concerns rooted in primary education. For example, male and female students take many AP exams related to core STEM concepts at roughly the same rate, but male students are more likely to take the highest-level exams, according to the National Science Foundation.

How can educators encourage more female students to pursue STEM fields and develop an interest in the topic? There’s no single answer, but there are plenty of strategies and tactics educators can utilize.

Getting more female students to engage with STEM courses

How to encourage female students to pursue STEM fields

Taking a multi-faceted approach to boosting female student involvement is likely the best strategy for education administrators and leaders. Using a variety of methods addresses the top-level issue of low engagement in STEM fields by female students and the related, underlying concerns as well.

Keep the positive trends moving forward

There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of realizing more female student involvement in STEM fields, but significant progress has been made in recent years. A report for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, assembled by the Beijing Royal School, drew on NSF data to demonstrate long-term improvements in female students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in STEM fields.

Comparing 2006 graduation rates to those in 1966, every cited major – biological and agricultural sciences, chemistry, computer science, Earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences, engineering and physics – saw significant increases in female student involvement by 2006. The picture isn’t entirely positive, however.

Some courses of study saw peaks in previous decades and have declined since, most notably in computer science. That major saw the share of female degree holders hit 35.8 percent in 1986, with lower results ever since. In 2006, only 20.5 percent of degree holders were women. That kind of decline demonstrates the long way that efforts to encourage female students to involve themselves in STEM fields still have to go.

Still, there has been a significant improvement in representation across the board when looking at long-term trends. These gains shouldn’t be wholly discounted as insignificant or lacking, because they have increased participation and created a stronger base off of which future efforts can build.

What does that mean for educational leaders on the primary level? Some long-term changes made in elementary, middle and high schools have had a positive impact on encouraging female students to involve themselves in STEM fields. Decision-makers for individual institutions and districts should identify the existing programs and initiatives that bolster such participation and ensure they are protected and only changed for the better.

Encourage, assist and support parental involvement

The involvement of parents is critical to overall educational development and also a difficult element to account for across every single student in a given school or district. While engaging parents with the idea of supporting their daughters’ involvement in STEM courses and, eventually, degrees may never be 100 percent successful, it remains an especially worthwhile concept.

Parents who are receptive to the idea of encouraging students may simply not understand the importance of doing so without an explanation or reminder from educators. Alicia Abella, an assistant vice president with AT&T’s software development division and advocate for raising female student participation in STEM fields, told U.S. News & World Report that overcoming a lack of parental knowledge is key.

While many parents might not be able to provide in-depth guidance about advanced or complicated topics like computer science or engineering, every mother and father can chip in. Activities as simple as asking about recent tests and assignments can encourage and motivate students. If parents can’t provide specific support, especially as female students progress into more advanced and complicated STEM courses, they can always encourage their children and help point them toward effective resources.

Educators should emphasize this point with parents whenever the chance arises. For leaders in the educational world, that means explaining the benefits to teachers and ensuring each does their part to raise the issue with parents.

Create academic environments that encourage growth

STEM integration across a given curriculum creates an immersive experience that helps female students connect with and learn about these fields from an early age. Applications of STEM concepts in fields as diverse as the arts, communications, business and agriculture engage all female students, regardless of their specific academic interests.

The East Noble School Corporation district in Kendallville, Indiana, was cited by accreditation organization AdvancED as a strong example of how successful STEM integration can be for students. This relatively small, rural district of about 3,700 pupils pushes its older learners to follow fruitful career paths that require education beyond a high-school diploma.

To that end, the district incorporates STEM elements into learning plans as early as kindergarten. With individual technology assigned to each pupil, learning is pushed to a more student-driven model. Additionally, teachers in English and other arts and humanities classes act on opportunities to involve STEM-related learning when possible. That can mean instructing students to look into the science behind a fictional character’s predicament or learning more about the function of statistical models used in a work of nonfiction. Exposure to STEM in a variety of academic situations is a cornerstone of encouraging female student involvement, broadening horizons and allowing those learners to see the connections between the involved fields and a variety of interests and career paths.

The University of Cincinnati’s master’s degree in education offers a dedicated STEM curriculum focused on student-centered teaching and technologically advanced theories. The 10 courses involved cover STEM from a variety of angles, equipping educational leaders with the knowledge and context needed to create learning environments that encourage female students to engage with the topics in a number of different ways.

Consider the University of Cincinnati’s Master of Education Degree program

Educators who want to stay on the leading edge of emergent and long-term issues in the educational world need to seek out the right master’s degree program. The University of Cincinnati’s MEd program offers established educators the chance to gain the qualifications necessary for a transition to a higher level of leadership through a top-ranked, CAEP and regionally accredited college.

More importantly for educators who have realized education is their passion, the online nature of the University of Cincinnati’s MEd program helps them become the best stewards and leaders of student education and development they can be, regardless of where they’re located. By focusing on educational innovation and emphasizing peer groups, participants benefit from a unique, focused and future-facing learning community. For more information, click here.


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