Encouraging Women in STEM

headshot of Amy Frankel
Amy Frankel

Why is it important to get more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? Many reasons! According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women are now earning a larger proportion of college degrees than men, yet they make up only 26 percent of the STEM workforce. STEM jobs are generally well-paying jobs, and research shows that when women in a society are financially independent and stable, the society as a whole does better.

Part of the challenge is a lack of role models. In my own education, I had but a handful of female STEM role models: a high school biology teacher, a high school chemistry and physics teacher (a product of attending a high school run by nuns), an undergraduate professor, and two graduate professors. That’s six out of the 25 or so STEM educators I’ve encountered during my many years in school.

These women had a profound impact on my education and my choice to become a mathematician/math educator, and I was lucky to end up in their classrooms; however, many of my classmates had fewer female STEM teachers, while some didn’t have any. Beyond the walls of academia, where did I find role models? Well, frankly, there weren’t any visible ones until Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist. None of the women I knew had a job in STEM. Even now, with the push to highlight prominent STEM women in the media, if I asked “Who are two famous scientists alive today?”, I bet you would name two men (probably Stephen Hawking, or Bill Nye, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson).

We need to change the cultural conversation and heighten women’s interest in STEM careers by presenting more female role models and exposing students to the vast opportunities available in these fields. That’s one of the goals of Waubonsee Community College’s Women in STEM Fest. We hope to show young women that STEM fields are for everyone and that there is creative and interesting work being done by women in STEM — from engineering mirrors for space travel and telescopes, to discovering new species and illustrating medical journals and textbooks. For the young men who attend, we hope to nurture a high level of respect for the women they will eventually encounter in the STEM workplace.

This year’s Women in STEM Fest will take place on April 1 and 2. Given that many local schools are on spring break that week, we hope many high school and junior high students will have the chance to attend. Studies show that by seventh grade, girls’ interest in STEM falls precipitously, but we can help reverse that trend, through events like Women in STEM but also by delivering another important message — that being successful in any field is about hard work, and a person’s ability is directly proportional to the amount of time and effort he/she puts forth.

Therefore, we enthusiastically invite you to the second annual Women in STEM Fest at Waubonsee Community College on Wednesday, April 1 and Thursday, April 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, in room 106 of the Student Center on the Sugar Grove Campus. Come and get your STEM on!

Amy Frankel is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Waubonsee.