The Howard Hughes Medical Institute — the largest private funder of academic and biomedical research in the United States — recently selected biochemist Dr. Erin O’Shea to lead the organization.
For many, that announcement represented a major sign of progress toward closing the gender gap in STEM careers, where women still represent a mere 24 percent of the workforce.
“While there may still be disparity between the number of men and women in STEM careers, there are also more opportunities for women than ever before,” says Ronda Brandon, vice president of teacher development and academic strategy for the National Math and Science Initiative.
Here are a few organizations working to help connect women and girls with those opportunities.
The National Math and Science Initiative
The National Math and Science Initiative has several programs aimed at fostering a love of STEM fields among historically underserved populations. NMSI's College Readiness Program has partnered with more than 800 high schools in 30 states to improve scores on AP exams in math, science and English. After one year in the program, average scores for female students rose 67 percent.
Another program NMSI supports is called UTeach. In this program, students studying STEM subjects can earn teaching certificates concurrently with their STEM majors, without adding additional time or expense to their college careers. LSU participates in this program. By creating STEM teachers of tomorrow, NMSI is encouraging curriculum design and instruction that benefits all students, male and female.
STEM teachers can support young women by designing their classroom practices “with an eye toward collaborative learning, inquiry-based activities, or problem-solving activities,” says Michelle Stie, vice president of content for the NSMI. “While such instructional design benefits all students, some research has suggested that young women thrive in classroom settings that are collaborative and that are focused on social relevancy.”
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Sciences runs two virtual mentorship programs aimed at helping young women succeed in their STEM education and career. The program for undergraduate women is called NeXXt Scholars and is in partnership with the U.S. Department of State and a consortium of women’s colleges in the U.S. and around the globe. The program for high school students is called 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures. In this program, girls ages 13 to 19 are paired with mentors. Every mentor must have a Ph.D. and be employed in a STEM career.
Both programs provide content to the mentees and emphasize building relationships with other women in STEM fields and STEM studies. Because the programs are virtual, young women can network all over the world. One of the advantages to the program that mentees didn't initially anticipate or understand was the cross-cultural experience, says Carla Emanuele, program coordinator. They have access to the entire network, not just their mentor. “They’re able to become friends with a global community.”
The Scientista Foundation
While studying and researching biology at Harvard, sisters Julia and Christina Tartaglia noticed a lack of resources available to college women seeking guidance, support and community with others in their fields. They made it their mission to correct this, and the Scientista Foundation was born.
Scientista has chapters at more than 20 colleges in the U.S. and abroad, and they are encouraging other schools to apply to create their own chapters.
In addition to chapter support, Scientista encourages networking, holds conferences and provides content on their blog. The DiscovHER Science portion of the blog also highlights female-led research projects and interviews women in STEM fields to provide visible role models.
The gender gap statistics can seem depressing, but they can also be motivating, Christina says. “At Scientista, we are working to solve the problem through our communities for women at the pre-professional level. The good thing is that in most STEM fields, the gap is actually shrinking so we are on the right track.”