Parents Key in Attracting Girls to STEM

Parents play a pivotal role in helping build early interest in science, technology, engineering and math – a foundation crucial for keeping children, and especially girls, interested in pursuing education and work in STEM fields.

“It starts with parents, and it starts with them really modeling the behavior and embracing curiosity,” New York Times bestselling author Andrea Beaty, speaking at the 2015 U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference in San Diego, said during a panel Monday. “We know readers become readers when they find it important, when they look at their parents and see they’re readers. It sends the message that this is important.”

Corporations in the STEM fields, universities and advocacy groups have long lamented broad gaps in STEM interest between men and women. The 2015 U.S. News /Raytheon STEM Index, published Monday, found women still lag far behind men in both STEM education and hiring – a trend that’s been traced to an early loss of interest among girls, which many attribute to social factors that implicitly or explicitly communicate that STEM is for boys.

“I spent a lot of my childhood trying to hide I like science and math,” says Dianna Cowern, who earned a degree in physics from MIT and now is the star and chief content creator of the YouTube channel “Physics Girl.”

It was her parents and teachers, she continued, who helped her overcome that reflex.

“They took me to science museums, they took me to math competitions,” Cowern said. “And eventually I got a degree in physics. It was that encouragement and that push for curiosity.”

The approach need not be complicated or expensive or even especially well-planned, both Cowern and Beaty said.

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