Girl Power: Exclusive Male Geek Stereotype Vanishing
By Lauren McFaul // April 24, 2012
STEM courses lead to success
BREVARD COUNTY • VIERA, FLORIDA – Hey, smarty pants. Yeah, you — if you’re a girl in the Brevard County’s public school system, chances are you’re among the vast resource of American brainpower needed to harness technology in the next generation.
Overall, our district ranks eighth out of 67 in the state for Advanced Placement testing — above average compared to the nation — but perhaps more important, Brevard County has Girl Power:
Queries run on the Florida Department of Education’s database for FCAT score results show Brevard County girls meet or exceed state averages across the board — boys and girls combined — for math and science test categories:
• At the 5th Grade level, Brevard’s girls score at parity with boys in the category of Scientific Thinking; both groups are a full point above the state average. Boys do better at Physical and Chemical sciences, Earth and Space sciences and Life/Environmental science in that grade.
• By 8th Grade, Brevard girls are back, scoring the same as boys through all of the above categories, and at parity or above state averages for all students.
• The 11th Grade FCAT scores find Brevard youngsters of both genders score at parity again; both genders above state average.
The STEM disciplines — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have come into laser focus recently, as studies suggest that U.S. dominance of world science and engineering has deteriorated.
Although only 4 percent of people work directly STEM disciplines, those areas are considered critical to innovation and economic productivity, according to the National Science Foundation.
Moreover, high-tech workers are paid better and enjoy enhanced job security. Nine out of 10 of the fastest-growing occupations through 2018 will require significant training in math and science, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
And, like attracts like — areas with thriving high-tech corridors tend to attract more high-tech jobs.
According to a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Labor, females represent only 10 percent of all civil engineers, 8 percent of all electrical and electronics engineers and 10 percent of all aerospace engineers.
The National Science Foundation found in their 2008 study, “Statistics About Girls, Non-Traditional Careers, and STEM” that women’s participation in computer science bachelor’s degrees has been steadily decreasing since 1984.
Cultural attitudes may play a role.
A 2010 study by the American Association of University Women found that 30 ago there were 13 boys for every girl who scored above 700 on the SAT math exam at age 13; today that ratio has shrunk to about 3:1;
That suggests the increase in the number of girls identified as “mathematically gifted” is due to education and social acceptance.
Nationally, social media websites such as FabFems work to bridge the gap.
FabFems is directory of professional women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who volunteer to mentor girls with similar interests, but who may lack examples of adult women who exemplify a STEM career pathway.
FabFems aims to expand girls’ options and dispel stereotypes.
Here in Brevard County, education pairs with industry to provide students with opportunities, many of which are open to students of all abilities and achievement levels.
Local heavy-hitters in the high-tech sector include the Society of Women Engineers, NASA, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Qinetiq NA and Lockheed Martin, all of which have programs providing hands-on experience via webpages, science camps, traveling enrichment workshops and methods of recognizing student participation.
As more girls get recognized, more girls get empowered.
“‘I do think the numbers are getting better over time, but there is still a lot of work to be done,”‘ said Casey Gilbert, Outreach Liaison for Florida Institute of Technology’s Women’s Business Center.
‘There is a basic cultural bias.”
“Unfortunately, studies have shown that academically, females are more likely to ‘shy away’ from math and often times are not as comfortable as their male counterparts with pursuing studies in the discipline, both in college and beyond,” she said.
“Boys do more hand raising in math classes, and teachers call on boys more often. It’s almost like an invisible barrier. Some girls may be good in math, but afraid to speak up. We do need more programs targeting girls in math.”
Gilbert can speak from experience.
‘It wasn’t always cool to get good grades,” she said.
Then Gilbert said she embraced her inner geek by joining a competitive math team in high school.
“I loved math and was not afraid to show it. We traveled to other schools and competed – just like a sports team. It definitely got respect,” she said.
And when talking about academic STEM success, Gilbert believes it’s hard to pinpoint just one area.
Variety of sources
‘It’s multifaceted,” she said. I had some amazing teachers over the years which I think is another must-have element for getting young girls interested in STEM related areas. Having an adult mentor that you look up to, you tend to follow in their footsteps.
“However, there is no substitute for hard work and determination. The drive to succeed has no substitute,” Gilbert said.
“Additionally, parents who require honor roll grades if you want those awesome jeans also set a standard, ‘It’s about self-confidence, absolutely about self-confidence. Instead of taking your daughter shopping, take her to Brevard Zoo, to the environmental learning center; instead of taking them to the mall, you can go to Kennedy Space Center.”
Funding for Florida’s education budget was bolstered in 2009 through a “Race To The Top” grant issued under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but growing pains persist in implementing the ambitious state program, according to the Center For American Progress.
Questions remain about effective methods to measure student success. Educators are concerned the program’s heavy dependence on recently-implemented evaluations which may ignore teachers’ experience and level of academic achievement.
Further, some who do the hiring in high-tech industries say the program may depend too heavily on test scores — teaching to the test might actually be a barrier to developing innovative critical thinking skills.
New Day Dawns
Brevard Community College’s Juanita Curtis is a specialist adviser in technical curriculum and helped create the school’s Aerospace careers program 11 years ago.
This morning BCC opens its new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Annex on the Cocoa Campus.
“In the Aerospace concentration of courses, right at the moment I have 37 males and 5 females,” Curtis said, “And usually girls’ enrollment stays just about where it is now. Although my numbers are not real high, every one of the woman have been real successful. They come into it knowing they want to do something different and they all have done very well. They seem to work harder at it. They seem to have to prove a point.”
Curtis said one of the program’s first enrollees was a grandmother.
“She came to me and said, ‘Am I too old? I said, “Are you breathing?’”
She ended up being one of the first women working for NASA in a position that was not secretarial.
“And she had a granddaughter that was 7 or 8 at the time — I’m sure she was a real role model,” Curtis said. “’We accumulate knowledge, sometimes even without knowing it. If you think you might like something, give it a try.”
For more information, visit these sites:
• Fab Fems online mentoring website: fabfems.org
• The Prism Project: theprismproject.org
• Space Explorers free online games: space-explorers.com
• NASA Student Ambassadors enrichment program: nasa.gov
• NASA Kids Club: nasa.gov/audience