How does the educational world address the lost time and missed opportunities to encourage young women to pursue the exciting and well-paying fields of science, technology, engineering and math?
Today, women make up only 28 percent of the current STEM — roughly defined as science, technology, engineering and math — workforce in the United States. While that might be an improvement over 8 percent in 1970, an increase of 20 percent in 50 years does not exactly demonstrate dynamic growth.
Not to be ignored, of that 28 percent, black women represent only 9 percent of the STEM workforce and Hispanic/Latina women 7 percent. While some may be encouraged to know 21 percent of college engineering majors are now women, as are 19 percent of computer science majors, lucrative STEM fields remain heavily male dominated. And for their reward, women currently working in STEM fields earn 74 to 87 percent of what men earn.
This comports with the most recent 2021 figures that place the average woman’s earnings at 80 percent of a man’s earnings when in the same job. If you’re lucky, some women can earn 82 percent in some non-STEM jobs compared to men.
Some might say the pay gap status quo is just fine and STEM fields of study and employment stats are also OK. But some of us in New Mexico don’t agree with those statements. In fact, isn’t New Mexico’s prosperity at stake if you do believe those misconceptions?
The American Association of University Women New Mexico believes high-quality public education with equality for all not only is the foundation of a democratic society but also is the key to improving the economic prosperity for all citizens. Why delay or discriminate against women’s entry into profitable adulthoods, such as STEM career paths?
Here’s one way Honeywell, Sandia Labs, Facebook other New Mexico corporations and private donors encourage and support STEM education and professional advancement for our young women: They generously sponsor AAUW NM Tech Trek. It’s a weeklong summer camp for 60 rising eighth-grade girls from across the state at the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro.
Tech Trek is designed to empower, excite, develop and build interest and self-confidence in New Mexico girls so they can envision themselves in STEM pursuits. This year, the camp was held virtually but still incorporated the same hands-on elements with daily three-hour core classes, workshops, field trips and Q&A sessions with female STEM professionals from around our state.
Workshops included the study of drones, forensic science, hydrology and solar cars. Virtual field trips included the Very Large Array, Spaceport America and Bosque del Apache.
Since our first camp in 2014, girls have experienced building and programming robots, learned how computer simulations are used to show the spread of disease and learned how to build electronic circuits and control the components by coding. They have built “wearable” technology, like an LED glove to help with sign language in the dark.
This year they also participated in the NASA Climate Science core class and directly uploaded to NASA data to assess the effects of cloud cover and smoke on ground temperatures. And let’s not forget their look into cybersecurity and what it takes to become a White Hat Hacker (one of the good guys and gals) and be a more secure user of the internet.
Hats off to the 10 girls from Santa Fe who were selected to attend our virtual camp this year and to their seventh grade math and science teachers who nominated them. Mandela International School, Milagro Middle School, Pojoaque Valley Middle School, the Academy for Technology and the Classics, the Santa Fe Girls School and Monte del Sol Charter School all were represented. They are helping to demystify the world of STEM for young women.
Thanks also to the 2021 NMOST STEM Equity and Inclusion Award for recognizing AAUW NM Tech Trek as being an influential program in introducing and guiding young women to pursue STEM in higher education.
Lynn Heffron is the president of AAUW New Mexico.