The Lalaholding Beaker

The Importance of STEM Role Models for Young Girls

 

I will never forget the looks on my extended family’s faces when I, a 12-year-old, told everyone  I was determined to become a chemist when I grew up. I’m not totally sure if the shock factor was the fact that I was a 12-year-old girl, that I was so confident in my answer or a little bit of both. For some reason, I had latched onto chemistry like a leech. I even had a periodic table hanging in my bedroom, but I didn’t even know the first thing about chemistry.

Flash forward to now, I realize I’m not actually that amazing at chemistry. I’m not horrible by any means! But my strengths more so lie in biology, which is what I’m majoring in currently. As I grew up, however, that wasn’t the only realizionation I had come to. I didn’t exactly have any role models that were involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) growing up. 

At that age, if you had asked me who I wanted to be like when I grew up, I would have said one of two people: Marie Curie or Jemma Simmons. I idolized Marie Curie not only because she was an incredible researcher but also because she was the only woman scientist you ever really hear about in elementary and middle school. My other idol, Jemma Simmons, is a fictional character from the show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She is a biochemist who works for a government facility, and I wanted to be her so badly when I was younger. 

Now don’t get me wrong! They were both amazing role models; however, I now realize it’s a bit disappointing that as a young girl I really only felt encouraged to pursue my dreams by one of the most famous scientists in history and a fictional character. I firmly believe that there are many young girls who, like me when I was younger, feel intimidated about going into a STEM field because it’s not exactly normalized. 

I also believe I should include how much the endless support from my family helped me. They never doubted what I would accomplish, no matter what I ended up doing. That meant more to me than anything else. However, I was lucky to have this support behind me, as I am not naive to believe that everyone has that privilege that I held. 

There is a lot of pressure going into a workforce that is predominantly men; you feel more of a responsibility to prove that you belong there. Even in 2020 when the idea of women in STEM is becoming more normalized, there is still a major gap between women who study one of the areas versus actually working in that area. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, while women make up half of the college educated workforce, they only make up 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce. 

So, what’s my point here? I’m annoyed at years of oppression in STEM fields of work? Well, yes and no. Obviously, it’s frustrating to be underrepresented in such a critical part of our world, but I do believe that women are slowly but surely making progress to be recognized for their talents in these fields. 

What I believe is most important is making sure the young girls who are excited to be a scientist, a mathematician or an engineer have the support they need to pursue those dreams. Whether it is through school programs, fictional (or non) role models or friends and family, young women deserve to have the same confidence and sense of security men have going into the STEM workforce.