News & Events to Inspire STEAM Education

Women in STEM – Vivy Chao, Educator and advocate for Girls in Stem

Women in STEM – Vivy Chao, Educator and advocate for Girls in Stem

Sep 13, 2013

A compelling article by Vivy Chao at Huffington Post as she expresses her experience in the classroom first hand the imbalance girl-boy ratio of students enrolled in STEM courses at the University where she teaches in Long Beach, Ca. Vivy is a native of Southern California, an educator with a background in student affairs who has spent countless hours teaching, mentoring, scribbling over students’ resumes, and learning about the psychology of the human communication and who is an advocate for more girls in STEM.

“This Spring Semester at the California State University, Long Beach I taught seventy-six engineering students in two course sections. What saddened and shocked me the most was the number of female students in these two sections–eleven. That accounted for less than fifteen percent of the entire two classes combined.

Watch inspiring video of Girls in STEM and more of Vivy’s encouraging article below:

It is no secret that the field of engineering and computer science is dominated by men, but the many excuses that include, “Women are just not that good in math,” or “Women are naturally better in the liberal arts than in math,” make no sense since young girls through the end of elementary school perform on par with young boys in math. However, after elementary school they begin to shy away from math and the hard sciences. This got me thinking. What is going on in society that contributes to these issues? What is contributing to the lack of self-confidence in girls that they begin to believe math and science are too difficult?

In the U.S. the spotlight on boys over girls still exists in non-apparent ways. As an instructor, I’ve witnessed my male students act more comfortable participating and speaking out than my female students, even though later on I learned through private conversations that the female students knew the correct answers. I’ve also been told by a female engineering student that the only reason she was able to keep up with the boys in the hard science courses was because when the boys were studying, she was studying; but when the boys were playing video games, she was still studying.

The glaring problem is that some time after elementary school the achievement divide in math and science between boys and girls starts increasing dramatically. Thus, when girls reach college, the few who do declare a math or hard science major become part of an incredibly small group of female STEM students who face the stereotype that they are not as strong academically as male STEM students. The situation becomes worse when there is little or no active outreach on the school’s part.

But there is hope. Dr. Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College in Greater Los Angeles, has shown how mentoring and encouraging young women to pursue the study of hard sciences and engineering can translate into young women actually pursuing those degrees. At Harvey Mudd College forty percent of Computer Science majors are women. That is an astounding number that contradicts, “Women are just not that good in math.” Mentoring programs for women are important so the already small group of female STEM students do not become invisible faces who drop out. Schools must be kept accountable in providing equal attention to all students.

As written in the book, the Art of War for Women, “Just because women are sensitive and empathetic, it does not mean they do not enjoy the thrill of competition.” Women can fight against the STEM statistics by not discounting their abilities, speaking up, and finding an outlet that can cultivate their confidence. So, I end with this–don’t just lean in. Fight on! To all the women and girls: you can win this battle.”

Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM)
“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have
more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the
population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that
we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … that is not being encouraged…”
President Barack Obama
February 2013

“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
First Lady Michelle Obama
September 26, 2011

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