The Secretary of Education recently announced an initiative on Girls in Math and Science. My first reaction: “Hooray!” My second reaction: “Too bad there’s still a need for this.”
As we all know, there is.
Though, while women are still significantly under-represented in the technical workforce, the story is quite different in elementary school. In 4th grade fully two-thirds of girls (the same fraction as boys) say they “like” science. What happens to all those girls? The answer, of course, is complicated, but we start to lose them in about 5th grade.
I started Sally Ride Science to focus on girls during that critical period when girls begin to care more about what their peers think and begin to internalize the messages that our culture sends them. A 12-year-old girl who says she wants to be a computer engineer will likely (even today) get a different reaction than a 12-year-old boy who says the same thing. If we lose the girls in middle school, IT recruiters will never see them on their visits to college campuses.
There’s been quite a bit of research to figure out which strategies work to keep those girls engaged and involved. It’s my hope that the Department of Education’s initiative will focus sustained attention on the issues and focus resources on programs that can make a difference.
The first step in the initiative is a Summit co-hosted by the Department of Education and NSF on May 15th. It will focus not just on K-12 girls, but also on higher education and the role of the media. It also involves representatives from government, academia, and the private sector. Its value is in bringing all these people together (many of whom have been involved in this for years), and potentially marshalling the support of several government agencies and corporations.
The next step will be to make sure that the initiative doesn’t fizzle out after the flurry of activity around the Summit…
In 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the shuttle Challenger (STS-7). Her next flight was an eight-day mission in 1984, again on Challenger (STS 41-G). Her cumulative hours of space flight are more than 343.