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Bridging the gap for girls in STEM careers

Posted at 6:10 AM, Feb 20, 2020

TULSA, Okla. — Stem is becoming vastly more popular when discussing future jobs and careers for school-aged children.

Stem stands for "science, technology, engineering, and math."

But there's a large gender gap when it comes to women and men who go on to make a career out of it.

Over the last several years, there's been a definite push to get more girls interested in stem career fields, but the statistics show there's still a long way to go.

"My goal is to get a degree in cyber forensics or counter terrorism and hopefully get a job with the NSA or CIA and beat the bad guys," said Reeya Ramasamy, a tenth grader at Union High School.

"I'd love to take an astrophysics course, or planetary science, and I'd love to work for NASA and go to Mars," said eleventh grader Emma Plunkett.

They're young girls with big dreams.

However, it's a dream that's being overshadowed by the lack of women in those fields.

"Young girls picture themselves doing certain things in life and that's not stem fields," Plunkett said.

A recent study by the Department of Commerce on women in STEM, reported women fill 47% of all US jobs, but hold only 24% of jobs in the stem workforce.

It's a number that's hard for Ramasamy to hear.

"It's disappointing honestly because we're capable of so much and I think it's the stigma in society's values that have kind of dampened women's abilities," Ramasamy said.

Dee Hays is an electrical engineer specializing and CEO of Excellence Engineering and has been fighting that stigma since the 80s.

"Back then there was not very many," Hays said. "There was less than a handful out of 400 and something people who graduated in my graduating class of engineers."

Currently, engineering has the smallest amount of women in most STEM education fields.

Only about 13% of engineers in the US are women and that number has not increased since the early 2000s.

Hays believes one way to combat the gender gap is by having more mentors and examples to follow.

"I think a role model is big thing. If we don't see it, we don't do it," said Hays. "Especially at the top of corporations, we still see a lot of men."

Hays said it's also about opportunities, which is something Ramasamy and Plunkett are working to offer young students in camp by first introducing them to different STEM fields with the help of the Tulsa Regional Stem Alliance.

"We want to bring different fields, engineering, medicine, astronomy, environmental science, bring all the different flavors of stem out there that way children get to experience what's out there," said Ramasamy.

Ramasamy and Plunkett hope this will be a catalyst for change.

"I think it's encouraging the young women, the young girls to see that they can do what they want to do and eventually flooding all the areas with women and them being successful in those fields and proving that they can be in those fields," said Plunkett.

But at the end of the day, they both agree you have to believe in yourself.

"Don't let anyone tell you that you that you can't do something," said Ramasamy. "Whatever you want, you can definitely do it. Just put your heart to it and achieve it."

For the past few years, schools and cities across green country have either added or upgraded its STEM labs, giving youth a better chance to explore the vast career opportunities and reinforcing that anyone can succeed.

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