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Editorial: STEM activities for girls at young age critical if women are to close wage gap

Girls learn circuits in engineering camp. (Emily Chappell / Carroll County Times)

Women earn about 79 cents for every dollar a man earns in the United States. This largely attributable to the fact that far fewer women than men are employed in certain higher-paying fields, such as engineering, that have traditionally been the realm of males, while women, instead, take up a hugely disproportionate number of the jobs in certain lower-paying fields, such as early childhood/elementary education, social work and the arts. That is changing, however, thanks to more of an emphasis on engaging school-age girls in classes and activities related to STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math —fields.

One example of this emphasis has been on display all week in Eldersburg at the Women in Engineering camp, which is run by the Robo-Lions First Robotics Competition Team 2199 and through the Freedom Area Recreation Council, for girls ages 8 to 12. The summer program involves teaching young females about a number of different STEM-related topics with a focus on engineering.

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Rose Young, who runs the camp, told us that this type of camp aims to get girls involved in engineering at an early age. Late elementary school and early middle school is the target age bracket because "that is the age where you lose the girls," the Woodbine resident said. The goal is get them interested early in STEM activities because if they lose interest before they even become teenagers, there's little chance they'll become interested later to have any chance at working in a potentially high-paying STEM-related job. While women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, according to 2011 data from the Economics and Statistics Administration.

STEM jobs account for more than 10 percent of jobs in the United States — a number that is rising — and many of them pay wages close to double the U.S. average, according to 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Forbes, a bachelor's degree and three years or less of experience can net a job as a petroleum engineer (with a median yearly salary of about $90,000) or a nuclear engineer (roughly $63,000 per year) or an aerospace engineer, marine architect, computer and information research scientist or nuclear medicine tech (all of which pay nearly $60,000 per year), or a software developer (more than $55,000 per year). Remember, those are merely median salaries for those with bachelor's degrees and little experience. The opportunities and pay would be expected to increase with more time in the field and/or education.

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The data clearly suggests that if women are going to significantly close the wage gap, they need to gain more careers in traditionally male-dominated fields, like engineering and computer science. In turn, having a broader base of great minds to draw from will only help those fields specifically and our nation in general. For that to happen, because there are certainly fewer role models who look like them flourishing in the STEM fields, girls need specific exposure to STEM activities at an early age and then plenty of encouragement to pursue careers in STEM. That's what has been going on at the Women in Engineering camp this week, where many of the kids told us how much they were enjoying themselves and how what they were learning would fit in with their career plans.

Young, who is involved in the Robo-Lions FRC Team that is open to middle school and high school students in Carroll and surrounding counties, said while there are girls on the team, more young females need to be getting involved in engineering. We could not agree more.



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