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Girl Power: 5 Powerful Women in Science

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When I started teaching math after spending the majority of my teaching career as an ELA teacher, I had many doubts. I saw myself failing myself and my students. For some reason I had this voice in my head that I was not “made” to teach math. I was fortunate that the math coach at my school provided me with the guidance and support I needed, and she helped me not only feel comfortable teaching the subject, but actually enjoying it too! It's not surprising to me, in hindsight, that I felt this way. The Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field is notorious as a male-dominated field. Paired with Stereotype Threat, where people feel at risk of needing to conform to stereotypes about their social group, most young girls just don’t imagine themselves “growing up” to have a career in STEM. 

Diversity of People and Ideas Brings Innovation and New Thinking

While new efforts like mentoring and education to reduce stereotypes have helped to see an an increase of women in STEM-related jobs, a Pew Research study showed most are in the healthcare field. We still lack women in physical science, computer and engineering roles. Engineering, in fact, had a female representation of 14%, according to PEW. Similarly, the American Association of University Women-Solving the Equation: The Variables for Women’s Success in Engineering and Computing found that “Indeed, significant progress has been made in fields such as biology and chemistry; yet in engineering and computing, women remain a distinct minority.” Diversity brings innovation. With an absence of women in STEM, society is missing out on major ideas and thinking. 

In the study, Stereotype Threat and Women's Math Performance, authors Spencer, Steele, and Quinn found that when it came to Difficult Math Assessments, “Girls who were made to feel inadequate performed worse than male peers. Girls in a control group who were not exposed to stereotype threat environments scored similar to their male counterparts." These findings can be echoed in many other studies as well. 

In Title IX at 45: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education, a National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education study, a key finding stated that, “Gender bias can prevent girls and women from pursuing an education in STEM.” The idea that girls’ brains are just not made for math is rooted at an early age.

How can we Help as Educators? Expose Girls to Successful Female Role Models

Change the narrative in the classroom: show students that women can, and have, the ability to achieve and innovate in STEM fields. The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education’s study shared that one way we can encourage girls in math and science in Grade School is to expose girls to female role models who have succeeded in math and science. What better time to make this impact than Women’s History Month? 

Here is a great place to start. Introduce your class to women who have made an impact.

Five Women Who Rock in the World of STEM

1. Ynés Mexía, Mexican-American Botanist and Explorer

Ynés Mexía was a Mexican-American Botanist, and is one of the most notable female scientists in history due to her several unique discoveries. At the start of her career, Mexía overcame several of the challenges she faced by being a woman in a male dominated field. Not letting any of these obstacles deter her, Mexía embarked on several expeditions that resulted in several of her botanical discoveries. These places included South America, Mexico, and even Alaska!   

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2. Mae Jemison, Fearless Astronaut

Mae Jemison is the first African American female astronaut with NASA. She graduated from Cornell University with her M.D. degree, worked for the Peace Corps and conducted medical research prior to her work with NASA. She’s the recipient of numerous honors, is a professor at Dartmouth and has her own research firm. 

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3. Rosalind Franklin, Scientist Extraordinaire

Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist who made important advances towards the discovery of the DNA molecule as well as assisting in the founding of the structural virology field. She attended and received a fellowship with the University of Cambridge. Throughout her career she studied X-ray diffraction technology, the molecular structure of the tobacco mosaic virus and the structure of DNA. Her contributions were largely recognized after her death.

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4. Ada Lovelace, Avant-Garde 19th Century Computer Programmer

Strong women in STEM have made a difference for centuries. Ada Lovelace was an English Mathematician in the 19th century who has been dubbed the first computer programmer. Lovelace was a pioneer in the mostly male dominated field!  She was the first to recognize that the ‘computing machine’ had potential beyond pure calculation. Her contributions have been honored through the naming of an early programming language, called Ada. A date is celebrated in her honor: Ada Lovelace Day on the second Tuesday in October. 

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5. Susan La Flesche Picotte, Healer, Doctor, Leader

Susan La Flesche Picotte was the first Native American woman doctor. Her love for healing was evident at a young age. After graduating at the top of her class, she returned to the Omaha reservation where she was the sole doctor for the territory and opened one of the first independent Native American hospitals. 

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Paula A. Hill

Paula A. Hill Associate Director, Project Management, Content & Curriculum

After spending my first-year teaching in a low-income urban school in Washington, DC, I returned to Florida to finish my Graduate Degree and seek further professional development. It was during my teaching there, that I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by inspiring educators and leaders who motivated, coached, and encouraged my growth and the growth of my students. It was there that I found a deep love for curriculum and curriculum development. I am now back in Washington, DC. where I’ve assumed an out-of-the-classroom role with PBS Learning Media as an Educational Media Content Coordinator. As I continue to learn and grow from others, I look forward to "paying-it forward" by helping my fellow educators and their students achieve success.

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