Women Leaders Advancing STEM Opportunities for Girls 

Education Experts and Leaders Share Effective STEM Strategies

Over the years, the concept of STEM has morphed from science, technology, engineering, and math to STEAM, which includes the arts, reading, and language. We must recognize that STEM is no longer a standalone class or a club, but instead it is a culture and a way of collaborative thinking and problem solving. By 2032, the US will have more than 1,000,000 STEM jobs to fill! Increasing student access to STEAM topics in their K-12 experience will give them greater exposure to the wide variety of career possibilities that await them.

Discovery Education and EdWeek recently held a webinar examining challenges and initiatives for girls’ participation in STEM programs. The esteemed panel brought their unique perspectives to share ideas for STEAM programming and ways to support educators as they work to bridge the gap in STEM participation.

Meet the Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez

Dr. Elizabeth Alvarez

Superintendent of Forest Park School District

Dr. Monique Darrisaw-Akil

Dr. Monique Darrisaw-Akil

Superintendent of Uniondale Free School District

Susan Warner

Susan Warner

Vice President of Community Engagement from MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth

Positive Changes in STEM Education

As technology has become more prevalent in classrooms, from digital curriculum to personalized learning and AI, STEM programs have evolved into more responsive, inclusive programming. This transformation has been a process, informed by thoughtful strategies and innovative approaches. Panelists shared how they’ve found effective ways to increase access to STEM programs by encouraging family participation and bringing relevant career-focused resources to students.

Dr. Alvarez: Online platforms have been a great revolution in STEM education and bring so many resources to students’ fingertips! The accessibility of information has led to the emergence of boot camps on new topics like coding that help introduce students to these 21st-century STEM skills. Our district started a four-week AI pilot to introduce students to what AI is and get them ready for high school. We aim to include all children and let them know that there are future jobs that have not even been thought of within the STEAM world because of AI, while others may disappear because of AI.

Dr. Darrisaw-Akil: Our district recently started a program called “Super Science Saturday,” that is a playful take on the exploration and discovery of science topics. As students progress toward graduation, science can become something that doesn’t seem fun, so we considered, how do we nurture students’ love for science? We started “Super Science Saturdays” to inspire fun scientific exploration and maintain interest in STEAM work throughout all grades. We invite our families and bring diverse teachers to facilitate tinkering, playing, and discovering science topics. When you’re in kindergarten, you’re a dancer, singer, scientist, and engineer, but what happens as you move through the grades? We need to continue to nurture students’ interests and passions!

Susan Warner: Eleven years ago, we saw all the same statistics—one in five boys pursued STEM careers while only one in twenty girls pursued careers in STEM fields. That wasn’t just a U.S. problem, it was a global issue, and our company did a survey to try to delve into the exact reasoning. We received responses from girls saying they didn’t feel that they were experts at math or science, which inspired us to create Girls4Tech. Created in partnership with Discovery Education, this program shows that it takes all kinds of skills to pursue a STEM career, that it’s necessary to be logical, analytical, and mathematical, but also enthusiastic, friendly, persistent, and curious. We highlight different types of STEM careers with hands-on, engaging activities. As more corporations, educators, and families have noticed the need to inspire girls to explore STEM, we have seen more girls in STEM subjects, which is very encouraging.

Evaluating the Remaining Challenges

A few notable challenges facing girls as they enter the STEM field are a lack of female role models in the field, low confidence levels, and a need for even more exposure to STEM career possibilities. School districts, corporations, families, and peers need to empower all students as they explore how their interests intersect with the world of STEM.

Looking to learn more? Watch the full webinar now!

8 Strategies to Encourage STEM Exploration

While great strides have been made in girls’ interest in STEM, there are still opportunities for encouraging STEM exploration. The panelists shared their strategies for bringing STEM experiences to all students and inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders and solution seekers.

1. Encourage more modeling, sense-making, and hands-on learning.
Maintain a mix of STEM learning experiences across grade levels so students recognize that learning at any level can be engaging and exciting.
2. Give students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning.
Students need the chance to pose research questions, represent their learning, and revise their learning over time, as opposed to responding to someone else's research question.
3. Allow students to experience a productive struggle.
Learning is a journey that isn’t always simple. Reframe students’ perspective about learning to help them feel comfortable trying something new or stepping out of their comfort zone.
4. Support career exploration.
Fields like AI, cybersecurity, and data science are growing rapidly, and the earlier students are exposed to these topics, the more they can see them as future careers. Girls specifically need to see female role models and mentors to connect how studying various topics pays off in the future!
5. Leadership matters.
As a leader, it is important to show up for your teachers and students, dive into the evidence of their learning, and learn about successes and struggles.
6. Invest in STEAM programming.
To be a STEAM-focused institution, partner with your curriculum leaders to determine what is needed and how you can invest in corporate and vendor partnerships. These investments truly pay into your students’ experiences.
7. Provide professional development.

As your teachers embark on a new journey of infusing STEAM concepts into their planning and balancing digital with print resources, they need your support. Ensure your teachers are well prepared in usage and instruction of STEAM concepts with thoughtfully planned professional development sessions.

8. Get families involved in students’ STEM journeys.

Show your students’ parents and families that even career paths that look unattainable really aren’t. When planning field trips, invite your parents and make a workshop on how to encourage students to explore and experience new learning. Then, encourage parents to lead their children around so they find themselves doing interactive activities from the museum, zoo, aquarium, or wherever you're taking your students. Parents and families are students’ support systems—make sure to bring them in to get them involved in students’ STEM experiences!

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Emphasizing Every Letter of STEAM

STEAM is more than just adding arts to your STEM curriculum, it’s also thoughtfully incorporating all aspects of STEAM throughout coursework so that students can see firsthand how it applies to the real world and in real careers. Emphasizing every letter of STEAM, and encouraging cross-curricular exploration, will show students the relevance and connection between science, technology, engineering, and the arts.

  • Show clear connections between S-T-E-A-M. You can’t do science without math! When talking about any experiments that have happened in history, make sure to emphasize the mathematical portions of those innovations or allow students to construct models using art and engineering skills to help students piece together the various letters of STEAM!
  • Schedule collaborative planning so your teachers can create STEAM-rich cross-curricular lessons. STEAM can bring together teachers of all subjects. English Language Arts or Art teachers in particular can highlight the crossover between what they have learned in other classes or allow for synthesis of knowledge.
  • Focus on the future and bring real-world topics into the classroom. Workforce pipeline programs are a great way to help students prepare for their future careers and see how their K-12 experience applies to the world around them. Consider how you can bring certification or licensure programs directly to your students to help them explore different careers.
  • Involve your students’ interests in your programming! Create fun competitions around STEM topics for students to show off their knowledge, allow them to research the impacts of their interests, and find opportunities to make STEAM as exciting and highly regarded as other student programs.

STEM is a growing field, and inspiring our girls to grow with it won’t occur overnight. Mindful programming, investments, and partnerships are great steps to take in widening access to STEM topics. But finding strategies to nurture student interest is key to encouraging STEM expansion.

Access More Strategies for Inspiring Girls to Step into STEM with the Following Resources!