STEM

Lina Nilsson discusses why bringing more women into engineering may be a matter of showing them the good they can do.

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Callie Jones is showing me how to 3-D print a tiny yellow chess piece, after designing it herself on a computer. It’s her second day in the 3-D printing club and she’s already a pro.

“So the printer’s like putting little dots on top of little dots on top of little dots, and so when the dots hit each other, they start to dry, and so it just starts to build up and up and up until you make the figure that it’s printing,” she explains.

Courtesy of blackgirlscode.com

Electrical engineer and computer programmer Kimberly Bryant says that when she was in college, she was one of only a few women, and the only black woman, in her graduating class. When she had her own daughter, Kai, she wondered what she could do to get more young girls of color into the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math-- known as STEM.

Inside a "SuperGirl Math" playgroup

Mar 23, 2015
Rebecca Martin/Youth Radio

Inside A ‘SuperGirl Math’ Playgroup

On a Monday afternoon a group of second graders gathers at a friend’s house in Berkeley. As each girl arrives, she takes her shoes off, throws down her backpack, and sprints off to join her giggling friends.The girls teacher, Henri Ducharme -- a tall, soft-spoken man with mostly gray hair -- sits quietly on the rug. Soon all the girls are sitting in a circle.

Courtesy of blackgirlscode.com

Electrical engineer and computer programmer Kimberly Bryant says that when she was in college, she was one of only a few women, and the only black woman, in her class. When she had her own daughter, Kai, she wondered what she could do to get more young girls of color into the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. The answer came in April of 2011, when she launched a company called Black Girls Code to teach girls how to build their own websites, make computer games, and train them for careers in the tech industry. Kimberly Bryant and her daughter, Kai, who has been through the program, joined KALW’s Hana Baba in the studio.

Back in 1992, toy company Mattel nearly had to recall its “Teen Talk” Barbie. Women’s groups protested the doll’s use of the phrase “Math class is tough.” They called it out for indirectly perpetuating a harmful stereotype-- that boys and men are better at math than girls and women. Research -- especially over the last 10 years -- has shown there is no innate difference in math ability between males and females. And yet the stereotype persists. Women earn 43% of all college math degrees, yet their presence is scarce in the higher echelons of mathematics.

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Picture a scientist in a white lab coat holding a test tube up to the light. Or a brilliant computer geek hunched over a keyboard. These are stereotypes we associate with STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But there are a lot of industries involving STEM skills that don’t fit those stereotypes.

 

While some high-profile women--like Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, or Marissa Meyer at Yahoo--have made it to the top of the tech world, few women are waiting to succeed them. In 2010, women earned JUST 18% of computer science degrees. And while women are the main users of online social networking and e-commerce, most leaders of these companies are men.

Eric Cabanis/AFP/Getty Images

About 18 months ago, novice entrepreneur Sue Khim flew to San Francisco from her home in Illinois to take part in an uncommonly public version of a Silicon Valley rite of passage — the pitch. With thousands of other young techies in the audience, she was scheduled to be onstage at the Launch Festival, a showcase for “stealth” startups that have managed to keep their products out of the voracious tech press, or have as-yet-unreleased products to announce.