Women in STEM

Posted on: Thu, 08/17/2017 - 09:00

Image removed.From the moment I entered first grade, I fell in love with mathematics. I loved numbers and patterns and trying to solve problems. More than 5 decades later, I still feel the same!

I achieved success in mathematics and was encouraged by both my teachers and parents. In high school, I enrolled in a brand new elective called "Computer Programming." There were 3 girls in the class – me and two friends I convinced to take the course. Our teacher was a woman; she often joked with us that if we became programmers, we would make more money than she did. (Some things just don't seem to change!) I loved that course and became very proficient with Fortran; but I knew I wanted to be a teacher and never pursued a career in computer programming.

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve nurtured and encouraged my female students to embrace Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) courses and careers. But mostly, I helped them build confidence in themselves and to work hard because I knew that would enable them to be successful in any endeavor.

My love of mathematics eventually led me to a doctoral program in Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation. Every one of my professors was male, but my peers included many females. I felt my professors respected my skills and my work ethic. I succeeded in the program and earned a 4.0 GPA.

I share these anecdotes to clarify why I found the recent memo from an engineer named James Damore to fellow Google employees so offensive. He reiterated antiquated, unfounded stereotypes and discredited pseudoscience. These stereotypes about the supposed genetic and psychological shortcomings of women obviously create attitudes and behaviors that DO discourage females in STEM fields! In a way, these stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophesies.

If people – especially people who hold the power to decide who gets into which colleges or courses or who gets which jobs – believe these stereotypes, things will never change. In Frederick County Public Schools, we forcefully reject those harmful ideas. Indeed, we actively promote the mindset that every single student can learn, grow, and achieve. In short, when any student believes they can learn and improve, they do! They know that effort makes them better and stronger. Substantial research by Dr. Carol Dweck and others supports the idea that this “growth mindset” erodes harmful stereotypes.

I am also proud of the efforts of so many outstanding teachers who have created opportunities for young girls to thrive in STEM clubs. I recently met with the GLAM club from Lincoln ES. There girls have bonded as "Girls Love Advanced Mathematics" members and I was incredibly impressed by their questions and attitudes! They are prepared to challenge any “stereotyped attitudes” they face.

After our visit, the GLAM club was heading to a “pajama party” to watch the movie, Hidden Figures. This movie depicts the barriers that stereotypes and bias can create in the workplace, and showed three women who overcame them. A perfect choice for the GLAM club!

I wonder if Mr. Damore has seen that movie.

How do you feel about the impact of bias and stereotypes on females in STEM courses and fields? Share your reactions on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether or not you agree with this post, if you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.