Guest Blog: Girls Should Feel Like They Belong in STEM

August 1, 2017

STEM education is as crucial as the air we breathe. We can find its influence everywhere. Yet, there remains a low percentage of students graduating with STEM literacy. As told by the Business Roundtable, “thirty-eight percent of companies say that at least half of their entry-level job applicants in the U.S. lack even basic STEM skills.”  

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It is our job as industry leaders, educators and communities to do more to expose and encourage students to these principles, especially young women. According to the U.S. Census, “women make up nearly half of the workforce, [and] they were 26 percent of the STEM workforce in 2011.” Techbridge Girls (TBG) and the 49ers STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Education program are moving the needle to change not only the statistics but also the narrative and industry so more girls can feel they belong. Both programs focus on providing accessible, free, informal learning opportunities to populations that are under resourced. Our organizations are laying the foundation to bridge the gender and socioeconomic gap in STEM professions and removing barriers that prevent marginalized communities from reaching success. Techbridge Girls has a 17-year track record, reaching over 7,000 girls from low-income communities in Title 1 schools across our three regions (Pacific Northwest, California and D.C. Metro Area) with girl-centric and culturally-responsive STEM enrichment programming. TBG also builds the capacity of educators across the country so they understand how to deliver high-quality STEM enrichment programs that recruit, engage and retain girls – especially in low socioeconomic communities. The 49ers STEAM Education Program has served 150,000 participants in the three years since it’s been established, with half of all participating students coming from Title 1 schools. Among other STEAM focused initiatives, the 49ers have also wrapped up the second year of their teacher professional development platform in STEAM integration and Project Based Learning serving 190 educators to date.

Being intentional in exposing students to STEM ideas that connect to their everyday life can ignite and push students to new pathways in their education. In a Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) survey done by Nation’s Report Card, “It is more likely for students to tinker and troubleshoot outside of school than in school,” which are both key components of STEM. It is essential to craft relevant real-world experiences for students that go beyond the classroom in order to reinforce this type of thinking.

Techbridge Girls does this by offering year-round and summer-based afterschool programs for girls from low-income communities in grades 4 – 12. Techbridge Girls’ curriculum is research-driven and implements holistic interventions that engages girls through hand-on activities that bring STEM concepts to life so they can see how STEM is a vehicle to change their circumstances and the world around them. Similarly, the 49ers STEAM Education Program hosts students in grades K-8 and teaches STEAM concepts through a 49ers Museum tour, Levi’s® Stadium tour, standards-aligned STEAM lesson and a movement lab. During a five-hour session, participants can learn a variety of information, including all about the evolution of football equipment and how a material scientist contributes to its creation, to the importance of preserving history in relation to art, culture and the technology that helps make it possible.

In collaboration with Techbridge Girls, the 49ers STEAM Education Program hosted over 100 girls for a field trip to Levi’s Stadium to learn about the engineering and design process and its relationship to the game of football. Together, Techbridge Girls and the 49ers co-designed a field trip experience that aligns with both pedagogies and infused a mentorship component where a dozen 49er women employees were able to connect and draw parallels to their work and lives of the girls. This opportunity allowed Techbridge Girls participants to see STEAM in their day-to-day, from the concrete they walk on to graphics they see on TV. Most importantly, they saw that women contribute to the success of a sports organization.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. The 49ers and Techbridge Girls are working on lesson materials that will live in Techbridge Girls’ curriculum as well as collaborating on how both of their professional development platforms can reach a broader audience. It is not only important that girls get exposure to STEM but that educators and school programming give girls the tools to help them succeed. The Techbridge Girls and 49ers STEAM Education Program collaboration is a partnership that offers innovation, high-quality pedagogy and cutting-edge technology and it provides more students the opportunity to learn about STEM and all of the benefits it can provide.

Our end goal is to equip more young girls with the confidence to charge powerfully into school subjects and careers that are underrepresented by their gender. Bringing more and more girls into this equation will not only transform their life but the STEM industry and our world.

 Nikole Collins-Puri is the CEO at Techbridge. She co-authored this piece with Sofy Navarro, San Francisco 49ers STEAM Education Manager.

Tags: women & girls, guest blog