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Funneling Girls into STEM Careers is About Confidence and Curiosity

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Photo Courtesy of WiSE, Iowa State University
Students enjoying a hands-on session during a Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conference

The Women in Science and Engineering program at Iowa State University was founded 30 years ago in an effort to funnel more young women toward careers in the sciences. Despite programs and efforts, there are still not enough girls getting excited about STEM.

Reshma Saujani is founder of Girls Who Code and says that’s not because these programs don’t work or because they aren’t well intentioned.

“The first thing is culture. When the personal computer came out, we really marketed it toward boys. And then we created this myth of a programmer in a hoodie in his basement, and girls don’t see themselves in him.” says Saujani. “You can walk into Forever 21 and buy a shirt that says ‘I’m allergic to algebra.’” Culture is pushing girls out.”

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Saujani. Lora Leigh Chrystal of Iowa State University and Jacquette Wade of the University of Iowa also join the conversation. Both work with programs to encourage women to get involved with science and technology.

Chrystal says that back in the late 1970s, a group of professors at Iowa State started working to get more girls interested in math and science, and they’re been developing programs ever since.

“This was long before STEM was cool or was even an acronym,” says Chrystal.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is dispel the myth that you have to be a smart girl to be in science and engineering. If we are telling girls that you have to be smart to do this, we’re losing people through those stereotypes. We need to stop saying ‘are you good at science' and say ‘do you want to solve problems.’”  

Lindsey Moon is IPR's Digital Producer
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa