Girls and STEM: How We Can Up the Numbers

06/23/2015 03:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 23, 2016

We've come a long way since Miss Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, translated Luigi Menabrea's memoir on Charles Babbage's analytical engine in 1843, which led to the first algorithm to be processed by a machine, making Ada, the daughter of poet Lord Byron, and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, in effect, the first computer programmer.

Still, the scarcity of women at the top ranks of Silicon Valley or the exclusion from the Boys Club of science and engineering prompts Charlene Drew Jarvis, a panel participant at the Smithstonian Institution's National Museum of American History's Innovation Echo: Tomorrow's Brightest Days, to focus on encouraging female students to pursue STEM education and careers.

Drew Jarvis, daughter of 2015 National Hall of Fame Inductee and blood bank pioneer Dr. Charles Drew, shares America needs STEM professionals and that there are plenty of places at the table for women who want to make a difference.

How do we encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM? Drew Jarvis says,

First, we need to message parents or guardians and teachers that old message of what's permissible for girls to do should be avoided. If girls believe they can succeed, they'll be more interested in pursuing subjects like math and science. Women's contributions may have been undervalued because for years, we've heard the message that girls don't do well in math. We ought to never say that again. Girls can do math, science, and technology as well as boys and should be encouraged to get involved in those fields.

When girls do express interest in careers such as electrical engineering, we need to encourage their interest, adds Drew Jarvis. From childhood, girls need to learn to be assertive enough to express their interests and ask for help. "Find adults who believe your goals are doable and pursue mentors," she advises. "Students can even ask a teacher, "I want to learn more about a career as an aeronautical engineer but I'm not seeing it in our chapters. Can you help me find extra information about that or point me towards someone who could help?"

Programs like FabFems created by The National Girls Collaborative Project, present an information clearinghouse for women in STEM careers, along with a database of names and contact information for role models and women who would like to share education and STEM career advice. Girls Who Code works to encourage girls to pursue computer science and technology. Women@NASA posts videos and essays from female NASA employees that explain their career paths from STEM to NASA, as well as STEM education programs targeted towards girls and a mentoring program connecting NASA employees with middle school students through Skype or Google Chat. Engineer Girl educates girls on engineering through interviews, as well as background on different fields of engineering and required skills.

Drew Jarvis shares Camp Invention presents week-long summer day camp experiences, offering 1,200 different programs throughout the US, which serve 100,000 students every year. "The camp encourages kids to explore creative problem solving, tinkering and building. As a first exposure to the STEM field, the program may pique interest and encourages participants to ask questions. We get lots of girls in the program which serves students in grades 1 through 6."

The educator, former scientific researcher, politician, and President of Southeastern University says we need to provide historical and current role models for girls in the STEM field, as well as provide access to numerous programs.

For more information on the above programs: