STEM Beats - February 2014

Girls Speak Out on STEM

February 26, 2014

To those in the know, especially our dedicated readers, the fact that women are outnumbered in STEM fields is no surprise. According to our latest Vital Signs data, women earned only 35 percent of all STEM degrees and certificates in 2012.  (That drops to 18 percent in critical STEM fields like computer science and engineering.)  But a new generation of female scientists and engineers is raising its collective voice to urge peers and society alike to forget the STEM status quo and start emboldening girls in their STEM pursuits.  Like never before, young women are taking advantage of and even creating their own opportunities to talk about a topic that we're all familiar with but have perhaps never really heard from their point of view.  

This week, Sara Sakowitz, captain of her high school's all-girls robotics team, wrote candidly in her Washington Post piece, “I’m an engineer, not a cheerleader. Let’s abandon silly rules about gender roles.” about the need to renounce the "unconscious, unspoken rule" that keeps girls out of STEM fields and in prescribed gender roles.  After an experience at a robotics competition where she and her team were labeled as cheerleaders rather than participants, Sara, a finalist in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search, comes to the defense of other young women who "feel at home in the laboratory" and want to translate their enthusiasm for STEM into exciting careers.  She warns that girls oftentimes "lose their spark," giving up on STEM as a viable option for their futures, and further contends that their interests "deserve to be supported just as much as any sport." 

 Girls love STEM

Another teen (who is well on her way toward a career as biomedical engineer) is calling upon other students of color, especially girls, to open their minds to possibilities in STEM.  In a recent Huffington Post op-ed entitled, “We Need More Students Like Me in STEM Fields,” Kaylynn Cusic offers her perspective as an African American on how engineering is misrepresented to and by students of color and why that needs to end.  We know from our latest brief, Engineering Emergency that African American students in particular have been earning a smaller and smaller share of the nation’s engineering degrees.  Kaylynn talks personally about how little she initially knew about engineering besides that it requires a lot of math and science and is widely considered to be intimidating.  But in her appeal to her peers, she asserts that just exploring the possibilities that STEM fields have to offer was "one of the best decisions" she's made in her life.  More than that, she relates that rather than being too difficult or out of reach, STEM can actually provide her classmates with "a vessel to make their contributions to our world." 

While we can't report that the reality for girls in STEM has totally changed (yet!), these two examples of girls taking action give us hope that we'll be able to soon.  Forward-thinking teens like Sara and Kaylynn see bright futures for themselves and are making their stories known in support of others facing similar barriers to engaging in STEM.  At CTEq, we know that the girls who explore STEM become the women who take on pursuits in any and all fields with the confidence to succeed no matter what the statistics say.  We need to elevate those girls today so that they can lead the next STEM generation tomorrow.  

Tags: women & girls, engineering

Engineers Week STEM Salon on Capitol Hill

February 21, 2014

National Engineers Week 2014 may be coming to an end, but we're still energized by our recent STEM Salon on Capitol Hill! In coordination with our latest data release, Engineering Emergency: African Americans and Hispanics Still Lack Pathways to Engineering, CTEq hosted guests for a discussion about the challenges and solutions to encouraging minority students to explore engineering career opportunities.  The panel for this event included Gayle Gibson of CTEq coalition member company DuPont, former astronaut Robert Curbeam Jr. of Raytheon, and Yannis Miaoulis from the Museum of Science, Boston.

This engaging discussion touched on topics like the shortage of U.S. engineering talent, the wide applicability of engineering skills and training, and the barriers that keep minority students from pursuing careers in the field.  The panelists also shared the experiences that sparked their own interests in engineering and how their organizations are working to inspire the next generation of engineers.  Check out the video of this great conversation:



Make sure to check out the rest of this week's festivities and continue to follow along on social media using the #EWeek2014 hashtag.  With all of the enthusiasm surrounding E Week, we here at CTEq are hopeful that, with the right resources, access, and opportunities, the future looks bright for all kids who decide to turn their curiosity of the world around them into a successful career in engineering!


Change the Equation thanks its sponsors for their support
of the Engineers Week STEM Salon on Capitol Hill

E Week Sponsors

Tags: engineering, Vital Signs, STEM Salon, video

Engineering Emergency!

February 18, 2014

This month, STEM enthusiasts across the country are celebrating National Engineers Week.  Here at CTEq, we’re excited to be part of the festivities (we’re hosting a STEM Salon tomorrow on Capitol Hill! Stay tuned for the video.) but even all of the E Week excitement can’t keep us from bringing you our brand new data release, Engineering Emergency: African Americans and Hispanics Lack Pathways to Engineering.

In this report, we address a growing concern about the barriers to lucrative engineering careers for students of color.  Pay for engineers is tens of thousands of dollars more than the average annual salary for those with a similar educational attainment and its unemployment rate is about half of the overall unemployment rate.  It’s alarming, then, to consider that minority students interested in engineering are facing roadblocks from the outset of their educational careers and can find themselves unprepared for the pursuit of these profitable, secure jobs.

In taking a closer look, we found that African American students in particular are held back by a lack of access to the building blocks of a successful engineering career.  For example, 35 percent of these students attend high schools that do not offer calculus instruction, and 20 percent lack regular access to high school physics courses.  Only three in ten African American students who have the potential to succeed in Advanced Placement math classes actually take those classes. Without the necessary foundation of a strong, well-rounded STEM education, African Americans will continue to lose ground on the engineering pathway.

Opportunity Lost

With increasing demand for engineers and the invaluable skills that engineering degrees and training afford them, addressing these barriers to entry is especially critical if the U.S. intends to maintain its position as a global innovation leader.  This untapped potential means that if African American and Hispanic students aren’t given the chance to succeed in engineering, we all stand to fail.

For more on this challenge, be sure to download the full Engineering Emergency infographic and follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #EmergencE.  From mechanical to chemical and aeronautics to computing, engineers make our world go ‘round and we hope you will join us this week in celebrating them.  Happy Engineers Week from CTEq! 

Tags: engineering, Vital Signs, infographic, minorities

STEM & Sochi: the Science Behind the Winter Olympics

February 5, 2014

Like millions of spectators worldwide, we here at Change the Equation are sharing in the excitement of the XXII Olympic Winter Games, which officially kick off tomorrow in Sochi, Russia.  Once every four years, athletes from countries across the globe gather to compete for gold and glory in winter sports like alpine skiing, ice hockey, and curling.  And while the incredible feats of these Olympians may look natural and effortless, there are STEM principles at work behind every jump, spin, and skate (you had to know we’d manage to bring STEM into this, right?)

For these games, the National Science Foundation has once again teamed up with NBC Learn to present the "Science and Engineering of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games."  This series explores the dynamic ways in which STEM disciplines contribute to every aspect of the events, including the design of the courses and the high-flying stunts performed by the athletes.

Iceberg Skating Palace RusSki Jump

It also illustrates how STEM bridges the gap between human achievement and technological innovation.  For example, what do figure skaters and robots have in common?  The physics of those elegant movements on the ice have given scientists a whole new way of thinking about robotic design.  

Science can also tell us how much gravitational force Team U.S.A.'s Shaun White experiences while propelling his snowboard up the curve of the half pipe.  (Just over 2.5 times his body weight!)  For these Games, mechanical engineers have adapted the size of the half pipe with the goal of maximizing speed, allowing Olympic snowboarders to get bigger air than ever before. 

Have you ever considered why ice is slippery?  Do you think those colorful, elaborate Olympic uniforms are just for show?  Check out the rest of the videos in the series and discover why this year's Winter Olympics deserves to win STEM gold.  Now, if someone could just explain to us a little bit more about curling . . .

Tell us a little bit about what you’re looking forward to during this Winter Olympics and what your favorite STEM sport is by leaving a comment below. 

Tags: science, video