A Parent’s Guide for Getting Girls Into STEM Careers
I'm Dr. Rob Garcia, a former high school dropout turned PhD. As a kid growing up poor in Humboldt County, I had no idea what Engineering was. No one ever took me aside and said, "Engineers create things and get paid a lot of money and have awesome lives." The only messages I got were, "The police came by looking for your uncle again, don't tell them anything."
High school was awful for me. I lived in my hoarder grandmother's house, fell asleep listening to my cat eating mice alive, and thought about suicide often. I failed out, never took my SATs and ended up failing out of college twice. Through determination, the Air Force, and the sheer power of being awesome, I earned a Doctorate in Education, made it to my dream city (San Diego) and have a pretty cool life.
The reason I'm sharing this is because I want great things for your children and I want to give you every resource to encourage your daughters to get high paying, successful STEM careers if that's their passion. I want you to teach them about facing challenges, standing up to barriers, and to NEVER give up on their dreams. (My doctoral dissertation was rejected three times).
My journey was unnecessarily difficult and I want better for your teens.
By some weird twist of fate, I ended up teaching high school Engineering in San Diego for five years. I learned a lot and by the last few years, was really making impacts. I coached two robotics teams, mentored students, and helped many get to college despite being from low income families or having horrible life situations.
Keep in mind that STEM careers can be mistakenly thought of as boring or not feminine or female friendly. It's important to expose girls to as much as possible. I have broken down the activities and resources by age. Remember that when teaching STEM, its important to use the following at first:
- hands on projects
- bright colors for diagrams
- working with friends or in groups
- association with real life events/concepts
- fun projects that mix creativity and design with STEM topics
- immersion and experiences related to STEM
My ADD was kickin' pretty bad in high school because I was a tactile learner. If I had been able to build robots, work with my friends, and actually have experiences that were fun, I'd probably be working at NASA right now, instead of sitting at home drinking wine and listening to Deadmau5 on a Saturday. It's important to create a learning experience that appeals to the senses, can be relatable to real life concepts and is half math, half hands on. Don't forget vocab words and you have a great lesson plan for learning STEM.
The two best resources I found have everything you will need. They are broken down by age and are a great reference point. They have a ton of info on getting girls excited about math and science.
Here is my personally created timeline:
A STEM teaching timeline for girls delineated by age
Age 6-9 (key goal is "new concepts")
Try to build projects with your girls that are varied in nature. One week could be a house and lighting, the next could be a garden, the next a basic chemistry experiment, etc... Make sure to introduce new words related to the project and get them started on spelling. This is also a great time to take them to zoos, science fairs, and botanical gardens. Introduce them to kid friendly science web pages.
Age 10-13 (key goal is "experimentation"
Start finding girls science or robotics groups. If their school doesn't have one, HAVE THEM START ONE. If the school gives them any grief about it, set up a parent teacher conference. Contact me if you need any help with this stuff. I have a very good talent for negotiation.
"I don't think you heard me right, Vice Principal Johnson. Those girls are getting that science lab ASAP. And some sequined lab coats. I'd like mine in a large, please."
A math club is also a really good supplementary activity at this age and can get them on the road for STEM scholarships.
By this point, they should be upping the ante and working on programming, some coding, and component level wiring or mid level chemistry experiments.
This is a great collection of pictures of projects for middle school level kids.
This is a complete review of several robotics kits that are good for kids.
This is a great physics project for middle school girls:
This is a big one. Danika Mckeller, (yes, Winnie Cooper) wrote a couple of AMAZING math books for girls. I have the whole set. They are beautifully designed and make learning math concepts MUCH easier. (Plus I learned how to fix a broken high heel and to find a foundation that matches my natural skin tone.) They can be found here:
If there is one recommendation I'd STRONGLY make today, it is to GET THESE BOOKS FOR YOUR DAUGHTERS. They are amazing.
Age 14-18 (key goal is "immersion/exposure")
As your girls enter high school, a few actions should be taken simultaneously:
- Arrange a meeting with an Engineering mentor, it should be either a female college engineering student or a younger female engineer. Girls need to see someone that is near their age, and as someone they can emulate. The most important thing is that they see someone they would want to be like.
- Take your daughter to a nearby college that has an engineering club. Engineering students LOVE to mentor high school students and tell them about their experiences.
- Work with your daughter's teachers to make sure that at least one tech related field trip is part of the school year. They should visit a tech based company and get to see firsthand what engineers, techs, and scientists do.
- Sit down with your daughters and explain about the A-G requirements for entering college at a state school. There are classes that HAVE to be completed to get to a 4 year school. A quick google search can be used to find them for your state.
- Have your daughter sign up for the Society for Women Engineers. They have scholarships, resources, and mentoring.
- I cannot stress enough how awesome Engineering an Empire is. Its a series of historical documentaries about various civilizations that has CGI and historical reenactments. Get it off Amazon. My students LOVED this series and its hosted by Robocop's Peter Weller!!
Dr. Rob's Final Thoughts
Thanks so much for reading my article. It is my hope that you push your daughters to be high achieving performers in their field. Remember that there are always loopholes in life just in case things go sideways. Especially in tech fields.
There are lots of "fringe jobs" that few people know about that pay really well, even without a technical degree, or with a 2 year degree.
I am a technical writer for a turbine company. I don't have a technical degree and never passed Pre Algebra.
I do the EXACT same job as engineers that have Mechanical Engineering degrees and make just about the same pay. How is this possible?
- military aviation background
- writing background
So just remember, things are not always linear in life. If your daughter has a high aptitude for technical subjects, but takes English or Journalism instead in college, she can STILL be a technical writer and start off at $22-$32 an hour.
P.S. If you like this post, you may also like these from my blog:
- How to Lifehack College
- Girl Power, Getting Your Daughter into Tech Careers
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.