Full S.T.E.A.M. Ahead: 5 Steps to Help Build the Next Generation of Female Scientists

by Dr. Jennifer Jakobi and Allyssa Costerton-Grant • UBC Okanagan

The maxim ‘For every problem, there is a solution’ has echoed through generation after generation. Yet, there is no time like the present to contemplate our role in finding solutions. The impact of global change is at our door step and it is a good reminder of why we need to prepare the next generation to find those solutions. Whether it be COVID-19, climate change, big data gathering or use, or social media, the influence of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is woven into the fabric of our family homes – especially those with smart refrigerators, Siri or Prime. Despite this integration, many children do not have access to the essential community allying and programming to build the foundation needed to find STEM solutions. This is becoming increasingly important as women now account for the majority of university graduates, yet research shows that women are less likely to hold a degree in a STEM field and comprise only 23% of science and technology workers. With more and more businesses and organizations looking to research and innovate, the demand for STEM roles will only increase. Not to mention, STEM roles are typically associated with higher pay. That means that the role that families, community and education play is even more important in building STEM interests for girls.


That’s why we’ve compiled five ways that you can promote STEM education in your household with the aim to empower the next generation of female scientists.


Activating, Nurturing and Extending Community •

Girls who report that both a teacher and parent encouraged a passion in STEM are three times more likely to study computer science in college. A nurturing network of people can have a huge impact on whether girls see STEM as a field that they can thrive in. Your words and the community your child interacts with carry messages. Consistently encouraging girls to explore STEM will foster a girl’s interest and likelihood of pursuing STEM.


Showcase Examples •

The pattern is clear: As girls grow their interest in STEM declines. A role model can make all the difference in whether girls see themselves in STEM careers. The first step as a parent might be asking what does a typical scientist, mathematician, technologist or computer programmer look like to you? Finding and celebrating role models as well as undertaking activities with the whole family can drastically influence whether girls see themselves in these positions.


Add the ‘A’ to STEM •

Creativity is a critical piece of STEM. The role the arts play in developing and inspiring girls to think beyond historical stereotypes requires the humanities, language arts, music, visual arts and design to be at the heart of STEM with STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Future-ready girls will need to be problem-solvers and that means integrating intentionally diverse ways of creating and mobilizing knowledge. Curiosity and imagination can serve as the foundation for whatever your girl’s passions are.


Provide Hands on Experience Outside of the Classroom •

When girls are exposed to STEM in the community through clubs or camps, interest and success in science classes and careers increases. Girls feel powerful doing STEM activities. They become aware of how STEM is relevant and the jobs that are possible with STEM. They also learn how to pursue careers in STEM. Thankfully, the Okanagan is rich with opportunities to engage with STEM. Take your girl’s learning into the local community to explore STEM firsthand through one of the amazing camps, workshops or after school programs that connect girls with the love of STEM.


Encourage Failure •

An experiment likely won’t succeed the first time. Just like one’s first steps, you must learn to fall and get up again and again. A willingness to try and fail is key to a ‘growth mindset’. A supportive environment that encourages learning and improvement through trial and error can build the confidence in asking questions and being comfortable being wrong. Trying to figure something out, tinkering, making, testing, building and creating starts with one important step: the confidence to try. A family environment that creates a safe and encouraging space for girls to invent their own path can make all the difference.


Our families play an important role in making sure that our girls are full STEAM ahead.


Exploring and supporting a budding young scientist doesn’t come without obstacles. Many of which are financial or exacerbated in rural areas – and not just for girls. Even in our community, there are members who will have limited access and capacity to pursue the type of extra-curricular activities that can help pave the way to STEM.


Everyone should have access to the conditions and context that builds confidence to pursue the career they desire. That’s why partners from government to industry are working together to ensure opportunity for every child. Here in the Okanagan we have various programs and supports for families to support STEM exploration.


There is no straight line to creating a vibrant diverse workforce, but one thing is clear: the future should be everyone’s to experience and explore.

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Dr. Jennifer Jakobi is the Director of the integrative STEM Team Advancing Networks of Diversity (iSTAND) and Professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC Okanagan. Allyssa Costerton-Grant is a higher education professional who is dedicated to advancing reciprocal community partnerships. Learn more at: stem.ok.ubc.ca

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