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More women needed in STEM jobs

By Sandra Olney | Posted - Aug. 5, 2014 at 6:33 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — As students prepare to go back to their classrooms this month, those promoting STEM education and careers here in Utah see progress, but they also know they have much more work to do, especially when it comes to inspiring young women.

At Salt Lake’s Natural History Museum, hundreds of kids have spent a part of their summer at one of 72 camps designed to spark their interest in STEM subjects. In many of the camps, the boys outnumber the girls, and that’s why the museum limited a few of the camps to girls only. Teacher Lindsay Anderson thinks that’s a terrific idea.

“Science is actually one of my favorite subjects and it didn’t always used to be," Anderson said. "I used to be pretty self-conscious with the stereotype that girls aren’t very good at science.”

At the University of Utah’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education, teachers from across Utah are learning how to make STEM subjects interesting for girls and boys. Nalini Nadkarni directs the center. She decided to study forest ecology in college because of her love of trees. In fact, she’s still climbing trees and trying to figure out the role of mosses in complex forest ecosystems.

Nadkarni wants young people, especially girls, to know they have a bright and challenging future in STEM careers.

“We want every girl to wake up in the morning saying, 'You know what, I can be an engineer. I can work in robotics, I can get a great job, I can have a family and have some earning power as well.’ ”


We want every girl to wake up in the morning saying, 'You know what, I can be an engineer. I can work in robotics, I can get a great job, I can have a family and have some earning power as well.'

–Nalini Nadkarni


Nadkarni’s challenge and that of teachers trying to get more girls excited about STEM majors and careers is in the numbers. They show the percentage of women moving from secondary schools into college STEM majors at 20 percent versus 30 percent for men.

When it comes to careers, nationally women fill only 24 percent of STEM jobs and that number falls to 17 percent here in Utah, where women make up 45 percent of the workforce. Nadkarni says that is why the benefits of bringing more women into STEM jobs cannot be exaggerated.

“To benefit the women themselves and the girls themselves because you’re earning more money, your jobs are more secure when you’re in the STEM workforce but also to benefit society,” Nadkarni said.

It must start with parents and teachers who have a love of the STEM subjects themselves and hope to transfer that over to their students.

“I think it helps when the teacher is really excited about it too, so even though some of these topics might be a little scary for me, I try to make sure that I don’t show that,” Anderson said.

Nadkarni agrees since she was originally inspired by a science and math teacher. These aren’t easy subjects but they can be rewarding, according to Nadkarni, who says, “By instilling a sense of inspiration then you get the motivation to do the hard work, the admittedly hard work of learning about science and technology and engineering and math.”

There is still one more week of camps at the Natural History Museum starting Monday, Aug. 11, for students eager to get a jump on their science, math, technology and engineering skills before school starts. Email: solney@ksl.com

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Sandra Olney

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