I am thrilled to be nominated for and recognized as a Champion of Change under President Obama’s Winning the Future Initiative. My work to inform and encourage girls (and other under-represented groups) to explore STEM courses, develop STEM skills, and prepare for STEM careers has occurred within the context of a long and fine tradition of ensuring equal education and employment opportunities for all citizens. I represent a network of state leaders created by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, by Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, by the 1976 federal Vocational Education Act and subsequent Perkins Act reauthorizations working to eliminate sex role stereotyping, bias and discrimination from public school courses, programs and activities. Sadly, all federal policy and investment for these networks was eliminated by 1998.
Most recently my work has been focused on the STEM Equity Pipeline (a project of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity-NAPE) and the National Girls’ Collaborative both funded by the National Science Foundation. Much of this work involves challenging entrenched gender-based ideas, stereotypes, and biases about girls and young women and their interests, aptitudes, skills and the best preparation needed for transition to successful adulthood. Parents, educators, community leaders and employers need to question whether their well-intentioned ideas about gender roles and careers are helpful to today’s young people as well as to the development of worker knowledge and skills needed for our future economy. I have learned in my work that adults must actively engage in helping girls think about, explore and expand their notions of careers that might be a good fit for them. I have learned that girls need adults to provide experiences that build their confidence in general and about STEM courses and activities in particular.
The STEM Equity Pipeline Project has created a number of terrific tools for educators to plan for actions that help girls and women consider STEM programs and careers. The Root Causes and Potential Solutions on the site are essential for understanding these issues and moving forward.
In my view, schools must take important steps that:
- Provide contemporary, high quality Career Development activities and experiences for all students each year from PK to PS (pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education)
- Provide time and training for educators to: explore what STEM is, the fact that STEM is far more than four subject areas, how STEM skills can be advocated for and developed through every subject and school activity, and why it is critical for educators to promote STEM now to meet the career needs of all students in the 21st century
- Provide time and coaching for educators to learn strategies and activities that will increase the quality, quantity and DIVERSITY of the STEM pipeline and labor force
- Ensure that all students have access to STEM and 21st Century Skills Content through their classroom and work-based learning opportunities.
Families and communities have great opportunities to influence the perceptions and thinking of girls and women preparing for STEM careers. The National Girls Collaborative Project has focused on the informal education opportunities within communities. The NGCP goal is to initiate and sustain projects with a minimum of two partners to expose girls to STEM and to nurture STEM confidence, exploration, preparation and career planning within girls. In my view, family and community members must take important steps that:
- Encourage and expand interests and make connections to future careers
- Learn about the many educational options available for successful careers
- Develop every child’s sense of self-efficacy and confidence
- Emphasize that it is persistence and application not “natural or gifted ability” that leads to educational and career success
- Discuss the contributions of all kinds of careers to helping people, families and communities
- Interrupt sex role stereotyping and other biases
- Ask Your Schools about Career Development opportunities and STEM
- Support Title IX and other Gender Equity efforts
- Advocate for national, state and local public policy that builds and sustains contemporary and bias free career and technical education
Join the network and help promote STEM preparation and careers for girls and women! You can join:
STEM Equity Pipeline project at www.stemequitypipeline.org/ContactUs/RegistertoParticipate.aspx
NGCP at www.ngcproject.org/resources/newsletter.cfm (see bottom of page) or register in the Program Directory.
And learn more about NAPE at www.napequity.org/page.php?8
Barbara Bitters is currently the Assistant Director for Career and Technical Education at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.