By Aja Witt
For Kristie Durham, a weekend trip to the University of Iowa goes along way for her sixth-grade daughter.
Like many other parents, Durham attended the Girls Go STEM event with her daughter, who, Durham said, is really interested in science, to show her that there are women who succeed in mathematical and science
“I want to show her that there are opportunities out here for girls in
this field,” she said. “A lot of girls don’t know about that, or don’t
go into this field.”
This was the UI STEM Education’s fifth-annual event at the Medical
Education & Research Facility on the morning of Feb. 11.
The interactive four-session event gave girls grades six through eight
the opportunity to explore STEM in the science and medical fields,
working alongside doctors, physicians, and other STEM professionals.
Emily Strattan, the coordinator for STEM Education in UI Health Care,
said the event is just as much for the parents as it is for the girls,
noting how essential it is that parents develop and reinforce young
girls’ abilities to perform well in math and science.
“Parents are learning about different things pertaining to girls at
that age,” Strattan said. “To help them better be prepared for high
school and college and kind of thinking about [the girls’] future.”
Strattan said the event was organized for girls of this age because
they tend to be underrepresented in STEM fields, citing grades six
through eight as a pivotal point in young girls’ educational growth.
A study on STEM development by Iowa State University echoed the
importance of STEM education for young girls.
“It is important that STEM outreach initiatives are introduced at the
middle-school level because self-confidence in high school is the
strongest predictor for girls choosing to pursue a STEM-degree program
in college,” according to the study.
Additional data by the National Girls Collaborative Project show that
girls grades K-12 exhibit mathematics and science achievement equal to
that of their male peers. In fact, female students are slightly more
likely to enroll in advanced science courses than their male peers,
roughly 22 percent versus 18 percent.
It is not until women begin to pursue degrees in higher education that
the gender disparity for women in science, engineering, and
mathematics begins to emerge.
While women nationally receive more than half of bachelor’s degrees
awarded in the biological sciences, roughly 58 percent, they receive
far fewer in computer sciences (17.9 percent), engineering (19.3
percent), physical sciences (39 percent), and mathematics (43
For women of color, the disparity is even greater. In 2012, women of
color nationwide received 4.8 percent of bachelor’s degrees in
computer sciences, 3.1 percent in engineering, 6.5 percent in physical
sciences, and 5.4 percent in mathematics and statistics.
Umber Shafique, a parent, and woman of color with the UI Department of
Radiology, said she wants her daughter to get a better understanding
of what she can expect if she wants to pursue a profession in science
Shafique said her daughter has expressed interest in the STEM field
and understands how demanding an occupation in the field can be.
“You have to be truly dedicated and really care about other people to
be able to follow this path,” she said. “If she’s willing to put in
those hours and hard work, then she should follow that.”