I can’t help but look back at my own education when it comes to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). I was asked by Ravishly to write something about the question is STEM still a four letter word for women. Here are my thoughts.
My parents were definitely not concerned or particularly interested in my education. They trusted that I would just figure it out. I was smart and I had to find my own way. Not exactly what I would recommend as a parent myself but I had no choice.
I was always good at Math and actually enjoyed Science. The apple did not fall from the tree so in many ways it is not shocking that I gravitated towards both of those subjects in 7th grade because they came easy. My education at this point had not exactly been geared towards anything. I spent both 5th and 6th grade at an elementary school that was trying out a new type of education. It was based on pods. There were a group of teachers so there was little structure if any. Projects were set up around the open space for self-starters. I was always a self-starter who could figure a way to get around anything so I became the tether ball and spit (card game) champion. I basically ignored all other learning activities and so when I did get to 7th grade, in a typical junior high school structured environment I did not even know what a verb or noun was. I kid you not. The school separated me from the English class I was in and put me in a room of below average thinkers. It took me about one month to crawl my way out and then I was moved into the smartest English class although I still suffered (and still do) for lack of that English training.
In Science and Math I excelled. I was noted as the top science student in 7th grade and was sent with all the 8th and 9th graders to spend a day at the National Science event in DC. It was a pretty big deal. In Math I just flew through the work and loved it. Fast forward, nobody at home really gave me pats on the back for this and by 9th grade I was lucky if I made it to Science class. Math was always a slam dunk and I enjoyed it. I remember taking a short course on computer programming (part of the math curriculum) and thinking this is so cool but there were just a few geeky guys who took over and I just let it go at that. By the time I got to high school I was concentrating on juggling three jobs which I took to easily. I owned them, I made money and it gave me purpose.
The rest of my high school education is pretty much a blur. Perhaps if I had a mentor or someone who took me under their wing when it came to Math and Science then things would have turned out differently. I just did not see the importance of Math and Science at that point. I was interested in business and business only. I knew I had a head for it and it was a ticket to bigger things.
Kids k-12 these days understand the importance of learning technology. I believe people should follow their passions. I had a passion for Math but nobody set me in that direction. Not so sure if I had a passion for anything except for making money than expanding my brain and with that my horizons. I read books like a fiend but otherwise that was my own education. I didn’t get much direction but eventually I figured it out.
We are seeing more organizations make sure that they become those mentors to young women through Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Develop It, Skillcrush and Webgrrls just to name a few. It is fantastic.
So, is STEM still a four letter word for women? Absolutely not. S can also be for seeing their future, T can be for the importance of understanding technology at any level, E can be the importance of education, end of story and M can be the importance of mastering the language of technology.
I still believe you have to have passion for it and if you do, stick with it because STEM levels the playing field and that is the key to a better future for women.