These days, you often hear educational groups are encouraging girls to pursue a STEM career in order to address the ongoing gender gap that persists in these fast-growing fields. But what if encouragement and a solid STEM curriculum aren’t enough? Some educators are pivoting away from a STEM focus in favor of STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. STEAM has the potential to help girls and women find empowerment and long-term satisfaction in modern careers that will move our world forward. If we want to understand what gets young women interested in STEM, we must first understand STEAM.
Georgette Yakman, founding researcher and creator of STEAM Education in 2006, is working to change the framework for how we educate students. Her research-backed definition of STEAM is “Science & Technology, interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements.”
Yakman’s work highlights how it is important not only to emphasize the subjects needed for today’s economy, but also to explore how all subjects are connected and influenced by one another. Using this approach, we might be able to encourage more girls to stay engaged in STEM disciplines.
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About The Current State of Women in STEM: How Did We Get Here?
It’s no secret that most science and technology companies have an egregious gender imbalance in their workforce. In fact, women held just 25% of STEM jobs in the United States as of 2015. Although there has been a lot of press about companies working toward greater equality, there hasn’t been much progress in the last 5 years. Women are still commonly passed over for managerial and leadership positions, and when they are given the opportunities, their wage isn’t fairly representative of the quality of their work.
So how did we get here? Old and outdated stereotypes about boys being better at subjects like math and science have fueled generations of women who do not feel as empowered to pursue STEM careers. Employers, too have unconscious biases that can keep women out of the STEM workforce.
Educators are finally realizing that it’s time to break those stereotypes and help girls see that STEM can be for them. However, it’s not as simple as just revamping the curriculum and telling girls they can become scientists and engineers too.
What is STEAM?
STEAM, which is an approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry and critical thinking, is an initiative that doesn’t just focus on the curriculum—it focuses on the life-long learning process. Instead of just intensifying the STEM material presented in the classroom and using standardized tests to evaluate students, STEAM is a philosophy that encourages students to value the journey of learning, not just the result.
For girls, STEAM can be especially powerful. It empowers them to try new things, to accept mistakes, and to welcome differing ideas and opinions. It builds skills that are necessary for the real world and the modern STEM workplace.
STEM Means How and What. STEAM Means Who and Why!
Solid technical skills will always be necessary for success in STEM fields, but it’s important to realize that these skills make up only half of the equation. According to Yakman, STEM makes up the what and how, but STEAM can complete the picture by allowing girls and women to understand the “who” and “why” of a career in STEM fields.
Many girls indicated being less interested in STEM because these subjects are often taught in the abstract, without being grounded in real-world situations and problems. Formally recognizing the arts helps to emphasize things such as; who they can help in STEM careers and why they should pursue these fields, beyond a paycheck. The possibility of that kind of purpose-driven self-actualization is key for engaging students in the curriculum, especially girls who don’t feel like STEM is accessible for them.
STEAM and Creative Thinking in the Modern Workplace
Although STEM fields are usually portrayed as being logic-heavy, the truth is more complex than that. Innovation and technological advancement require creative thinking and problem-solving skills that often aren’t emphasized in traditional STEM curriculums. STEAM can help bridge this skill gap by teaching students to think more broadly and creatively.
Girls who participate in the STEAM curriculum have more opportunities to learn to embrace creativity and to apply creative thinking to STEM subjects and problems. This involves a lot of trial and error and will make girls more adaptable, resilient, and able to apply critical thinking for problem-solving. Creativity isn’t at odds with STEM careers—it’s essential for success in these fields.
How Combining Science and Art Empowers Girls and Young Women
If we want to encourage more girls in pursuing STEM careers, then it’s important to know the obstacles they will face in the classroom and eventually, the office. It’s important to help girls build and project confidence so they can claim credit for their work and overcome the biases that still persist in the world of STEM.
In the end, STEAM is about not only equipping young women to thrive in IT and STEM careers but also about empowering them to pursue the path that is right for them. It’s about helping girls to feel like STEM careers can be for them so they can earn an impressive salary and help solve the world’s biggest problems.
Empowering young women with STEAM is another key component to what is available for us to help in order to improve our world and end gender discrimination.