Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Boston Globe Breaks Girl Scout STEM Research

The Boston Globe reports that a year ago, when the Girl Scout Research Institute embarked on a study of girls, math, and science, researchers expected to find a Lego Friends sort of world: girls drawn to cute and pretty stuff, who didn’t aspire to careers in science. Instead, the study’s results, which are being released today, upend those old assumptions.

According to the Girl Scout Research Institute study Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, 74 percent of girls — and even higher percentages of African-American and Hispanic girls — say they’re interested in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, math, and engineering. The trick is to break professions into their component parts. Girls who are interested in STEM want to know how things work. They like solving puzzles and problems. They want to understand the natural world.

The hard part is making the conversion from childhood interest into grown-up careers. Today, women are well-represented in medicine, but they earn only 20 percent of bachelors degrees in engineering, computer science, and physics. Only a quarter of the jobs in STEM fields nationwide — and 11 percent of engineering jobs — are held by women. And the Girl Scouts study found that only 13 percent of girls who like math and science say a STEM career is their first choice.

In part, that’s because of a dearth of role models, said Kamla Modi, an author of the Girl Scouts study, named Generation Stem. Nearly half of all girls say they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a group or a class, the study found. And lack of women in the field reinforces the perception — and, sometimes, the reality — that science is incompatible with family life.

Girls who are interested in STEM want to know how things work. They like solving puzzles and problems. They want to understand the natural world.