You don’t need to be a mathematician to know there is gender disparity when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in this country. Part of the difficulty of getting girls interested in STEM is the common misconception that it’s reserved for boys. Despite the continued progress of women in the STEM world, there remains a notable absence of women in math and science professions.
And it isn’t just men who fuel the stereotype that women are not as drawn to these subjects. Deep-rooted societal stereotypes suggest that girls, math and science don’t mix. While research has proven that these are indeed myths, the struggle to get girls into STEM fields persists.
According to the National Girls Collaborative, young women receive just 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences and 43 percent of degrees in mathematics and statistics in the United States. How do we reverse this trend? That’s sort of the million-dollar question. What is certain is that our world would be a better place if there were more women scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
While most people know me as the Emmy-nominated actress on the hit comedy The Big Bang Theory, I also have a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. I arrived late to science, actually. It wasn’t something I had a natural affinity for — and growing up, I always thought it was for boys. Both of my parents were English teachers, and math and science just never came easily to me.
But when I was about 15 years old and filming Blossom, I had a tutor who was the first female role model in science I ever had. She showed me that someone could be as passionate about biology as I thought you could only be about art or poetry. She was young and hip and made the sciences truly come alive. She inspired me and gave me the confidence and the skill set to go on to pursue my bachelor’s degree… and eventually a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
But girls like me shouldn’t have to wait until high school to meet a female role model in the sciences! We should be exposing female students to strong female STEM role models as early as possible — in elementary school.
In my role as brand ambassador for Texas Instruments calculators, I have traveled to classrooms around the country as a role model for students, especially girls, inspiring them to pursue careers in the exciting and fulfilling STEM arena. Girl students need to know being a scientist doesn’t mean being stuck alone in a lab in a white coat, and being a mathematician doesn’t mean crunching numbers on a calculator for the rest of their lives. We must show young women, from a young age, the varied and creatively driven fascinating careers available to them in science, math and engineering.
Although I returned to acting after my second son was born, a STEM education never leaves you, no matter whether you stay at home as a full-time mom, pursue a different kind of career or even act on a television sitcom. A strong STEM education is important — not only because the fastest-growing jobs require a math and science background, but also (and more importantly) the training puts students on a path to solid employment and job security.
Working with students for the past several years has confirmed for me that students not only need role models they can relate to, but they need to see how STEM relates to things they are interested in, whether it’s sports, music videos, social media, the environment, animals — whatever.
Students who have even a fledgling interest in STEM and a knack for social media (what young person these days doesn’t?) can get psyched about this new contest I’m participating in with TI, ilyTI, where we ask you to show me how you love your TI calculator. Students can even win a classroom visit from me this fall to inspire the next generation of female scientists, mathematicians and engineers!