Include women to expand STEM

Camille Galles

To increase the number of Minnesotan graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, lawmakers are targeting college students. Potential laws would fund STEM internship programs, provide tax credits for subsequent careers and link college funding to performance in STEM fields.

But this strategy ignores a sector of the population whose inclusion could dramatically increase STEM graduates — girls.

Girls are discouraged from STEM at an early age. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that bias against women starts as early as grade school. According to the paper, teachers consistently gave girls lower math test scores than boys without realizing it. Low scores early on makes girls less likely to take advanced STEM courses in high school. Ultimately, women become less likely to pursue a major in the STEM fields, where they continue to be a minority.

More women completing STEM degrees would chip away at the wage gap and fill positions our state desperately needs. But Minnesota’s proposed strategies would only affect those currently pursuing STEM degrees — most of whom are men. By the time most women enter college, they’ve already been discouraged from studying STEM.

Instead of funding internship programs, I’d rather see the state fund an after-school science program for girls. Instead of rewarding colleges that churn out STEM degrees, I’d rather see elementary schools receive funding for outstanding math programs. Unless we specifically work to get girls excited about science, the STEM fields will never reach their full potential.