Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Girl Scout Research Affirms Girls’ Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

According to the Girl Scout Research Institute study Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, though a majority of today’s girls have a clear interest in STEM, they don’t prioritize STEM fields when thinking about their future careers.

This latest offering from the Girl Scout Research Institute shows that 74 percent of teen girls are interested in STEM subjects and the general field of study. Further, a high 82 percent of girls see themselves as “smart enough to have a career in STEM.” And yet, few girls consider it their number-one career option: 81 percent of girls interested in STEM are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13 percent say it’s their first choice. Additionally, girls express that they don’t know a lot about STEM careers and the opportunities afforded by these fields, with 60 percent of STEM-interested girls acknowledging that they know more about other careers than they do about STEM careers.

Girls are also aware that gender barriers persist in today’s society: 57 percent of those studied concur that if they were to pursue a STEM career, they would “have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously.”

As to what girls are drawn to with regard to these subjects, Generation STEM notes that the creative and hands-on aspects of STEM hold the most appeal. STEM-interested girls take an active, inquisitive approach to engaging in science, technology, engineering, and math: a high percentage like to solve problems (85%), build things and put things together (67%), do hands-on science projects (83%), and ask questions about how things work and find ways to answer these questions (80%). Girls enjoy the hands-on aspect of exploration and discovery and recognize the benefits of a challenge: 89 percent of all girls agree that “obstacles make me stronger.”

“While we know that the majority of girls prefer a hands-on approach in STEM fields, we also know that girls are motivated to make the world a better place and to help people,” says Kamla Modi, PhD, research and outreach analyst, Girl Scout Research Institute. “Girls may not understand how STEM careers help people, or how their STEM interests can further their goals of helping people. Girl Scouts of the USA is committed to engaging girls in STEM activities and encouraging them to pursue STEM interests both in and outside the classroom, [in part] through program partnerships.”

Girl Scouts’ relationship with AT&T constitutes one such partnership. Girl Scouts of the USA and AT&T have joined together to advance underserved high-school girls in science and engineering. As minority students and women are gravitating away from science and engineering toward other professions, and employment in STEM fields is increasing at a faster pace than in non-STEM fields, educational experts say the U.S. must increase proficiency and interest in these areas to compete in the global economy. Girl Scouts of the USA and AT&T are tackling this issue with a $1 million AT&T Aspire contribution, designed to spark STEM interest in underserved high-school girls across the country.

Addressing another critical Generation STEM finding—just 46 percent of girls know a woman in a STEM career—Girl Scouts of the USA and the New York Academy of Sciences have announced a partnership to design and implement a STEM mentoring program for Girl Scouts, modeled after the academy’s current afterschool STEM mentoring program. The new curriculum will be adapted and scaled to Girl Scouts’ network of more than 100 councils across the country. The goal is to identify and train young women scientists to serve as role models and mentors for girls, and to work in collaboration with Girl Scout volunteers to bring high-quality, hands-on, informal science education opportunities to middle-school Girl Scouts.

"America has a huge opportunity for economic growth with girls' interest in science, technology, engineering, and math," says Anna Maria Chávez, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA. "When girls succeed, so does society. We all have a role to play in making girls feel supported and capable when it comes to involvement in STEM fields—and anything else they set their minds to and have traditionally been steered away from.”