Today is one of my favorite days of the year: International Women’s Day. I love celebrating my womanhood and speaking out to advocate for my rights as a woman. It’s a great feeling to be surrounded by incredible women regularly, and it’s even better lifting up a collective voice that screams “girl power” with every breath.
On this day in particular, I think about what it means to be a woman in STEM.
No, I’m not an engineer or an astrophysicist or a marine biologist (to my fourth grade self’s dismay I’m sure), but what I am is a science teacher to middle schoolers in the greater Raleigh area.
Wake County Public Schools is the 14th largest school district in the country, serving nearly 160,000 students. 76,862 of those students are female and I get the chance to work with a portion of those students daily.
I revel in the fact that I get the opportunity every day to make magical moments of science happen for students, especially female students, every day. These moments can be as simple as looking under microscopes are stomata to as complex as using a CAD system to design a spacecraft to colonize a planet.
Giving young girls the chance to see themselves in a STEM-filled future is such an amazing gift. I love teaching about women who have influenced the scientific community and giving girls hands-on experiences to engage in science content (also, #girlsdoingscience is only my favorite hashtag of all time — just check my lab Instagram account). I get so excited watching these students grow into confident, strong young ladies who are willing to get up and independently lead a class science review and completely OWN it.
I have girls who want to be everything from astronauts to cosmetologists to veterinarians and beyond, who never fully realized they could achieve those dreams until hitting a sixth grade science lab.
When I taught elementary school, it was maybe even more imperative that I displayed what a woman in STEM looked like.
In third grade, I had students performing soil tests on our school grounds’ soil to figure out where the best place for a school garden would be (then they presented websites they made to a panel of PTA, Garden Club, and administrative representatives to state their cause – they even stayed within a budget!). These students also designed spacecraft by taking measurements in their notebooks and noting what elements of flight were present in their craft. We analyzed weather patterns and matched those to potential rocket launch dates. We read books and articles and wrote essays about science topics, growing content vocabulary daily.
Sparking a love for STEM starts in elementary school, but ultimately this isn’t just about the beginning; rather, it’s about the sustainability.
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women make up less than 30% of the science and engineering workforce (and women make up a total of half of the college educated workforce in the country!). Sure, girls might “outperform boys” on standardized math and science assessments, but this isn’t about a test score.
This is about a radical shift in highlighting the natural talents of women and honoring their words and ideas. A shift in treating women like equals and paying them as such. A shift in making STEM interests more accessible to girls of all ages and races and socioeconomic statuses.
We must be a proud community of women in STEM. We must show our girls that it’s okay to be a boss because that doesn’t make us bossy. We must demonstrate leadership, compassion, and grace in all aspects of our lives. We must continue to thirst for knowledge and be models of impassioned learning.
If not us, then who? Who will teach our girls that it’s okay to ask questions and challenge the notions of boys in class? Who will empower our girls to speak up and advocate for themselves and others? Who will ensure that women will end up making more than 30% of our science and engineering workforce?
I love being a science teacher as it is a total joy for me getting girls excited about STEM. The only thing better than teaching girls to embrace science is the waiting to see what they’ll do with their excitement, for their future is limitless.