Finding Role Models for Young STEMinists

Research from Microsoft has revealed that the number of girls interested in STEM on average, almost doubles when they have a role model to inspire them. Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This is so critical to our children’s future, especially for underserved groups in STEM. Our girls need role models which highlight empowered, creative, and impact driven women in all aspects of their lives. Many of the programs that focus on female role models in STEM are tied to middle school, high school, and college; this is too late.

A study of 116 STEM graduate students and scientists saw the majority (65%) of participants report that their interest in STEM began before middle school. It was found that girls specifically make a conscious decision wether they are good at math and science by the time they reach 6th grade. This has nothing to do with ability, only their own perceptions! Without role models showing pathways to engaging careers and helping young girls understand what STEM jobs look like; most girls truly won’t be what they will never see.

Matt Burt, a graphic designer from North Carolina, is trying to help change girls perceptions of STEM. Understanding that 69% of girls and young women aspire for a career that helps the world, Matt reimagined Disney princesses to highlight careers, mostly in STEM, that do just that – change the world.

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Burt told Bored Panda (website). “To many people, the Disney princesses have become so much more than just characters in movies. I wanted to create these to inspire others in hopes that they can find a career that they love and a career that makes a difference.”

https://www.boredpanda.com/disney-princesses-career-boss-ladies-matt-burt/

From Dr. Rapunzel the neurologist, to Jasmine the UN Ambassador; each story translates to a 2018 career that makes an impact on the world. Queen Elsa may control winter, but she is also educating the world along with her sister Anna about climate science. Need someone to fight for your cause? Pocahontas is the head of a environmental non-profit, Cinderella is an animal rights activist, and Mulan is a Title IX attorney. Check out the stories here on BoredPanda.

Images are great, however we also need to help young girls reimagine “play” and the roles they pretend to imagine themselves in. Lottie Dolls, a global company focused on “real people as role models” is driven to do just that. Ian Harkin, CEO says, “seeing role models your own age is extremely important because they are more relatable. It’s like “if she/he can do it so can I” and not only that but I can do it now, I don’t have to wait until I grow up.”

Lottie_Doll_image

@RobotMakerGirl (below) says “Kids are not “the future”, we are here now. We are not going to change the world “someday” we are already doing it.” @Astrostarbright (above) and @RobotMakerGirl are two young change makers which Lottie Dolls looked to for inspiration. These young women aren’t just an inspiration for other young boys and girls, but also help adults see the possibilities of STEM. I was fortunate to have the privilege of meeting one of my hero’s and having her sign my daughters Lottie Doll. 

Barbie has also started to realize the importance of showcasing powerful role models for young girls with their #RoleModels line of dolls.

86% of moms surveyed are worried about the kind of role models their daughters are exposed to. Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls. From Sheroes to Inspiring Women, the latest Barbie role models are all extraordinary women we’ve honored with a doll in their likeness.

Inspiration can be found in almost any place and helping get toys in the hands of kids which showcase that anything is possible is so important to changing the perception of STEM with young girls. Being able to see and imagine they are these women in diverse engaging careers who made/are making an impact on the world through STEM can help change the perception of girls that STEM isn’t about changing the world (only 34% believe that STEM is about impacting the world).

Access to STEM role models cannot end after getting into middle school. Million Women Mentors has been making an impact in supporting 1,057,051 girls across the nation (as of 6/5/2018) through mentorship relationships. It is great that STEM is becoming more mainstream where role models are showing up in the toy industry, but nothing can replace individual relationships. Mentors make changing perceptions personal and help uncover and break down the barriers impeding young women in pursuing STEM.

Mom and Dad support
Research Study: Closing the STEM Gap – Microsoft: https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RE1UMWz

Resources and support from STEM professionals for students, teachers, and parents helps build a true culture of STEM for all involved. This culture of STEM not only benefits students and schools, but the local economy and future generations. When we bring multiple perspectives to the table to solve problems, new innovative solutions materialize and the community, nation, and world is made a little bit better.

Author: Jonathan Gerlach

Global Consultant for STEM Education @STEMigo Jonathan.Gerlach@GE-STEM.com

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