You can be cool and you can be smart
Kelly Mathews is on a mission. She wants to get more girls interested in STEM, which is the acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. For Mathews, it's a mission that begins at home with her 9-month old daughter, Marilyn.
"I want her to look at things and wonder how they tick," Mathews says. "And know that if she looks at something and says, 'Wouldn't it be cool if it could do that?' that she can make it do that."
That's why Mathews reads books like "Rosie Revere, Engineer" to Marilyn. She stocks her daughter's nursery with other such books, including "HTML for Babies."
Mathews is a software engineer in Chalfont, Pennsylvania. She is one of only two female engineers in her company. She believes the earlier girls are introduced to these fields, the better the chance they will be empowered to pursue those careers when they graduate from high school.
That's a belief that is gaining support in the education and business communities. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates women make up less than 25 percent of the workforce in jobs related to STEM. The acronym was coined by a member of the National Science Foundation in the 1990s.
Mathews has also teamed up with TechGirlz, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that aims to bridge the gender gap by teaching middle and high school girls about careers in technology. To her the message is simple: "You can be cool and you can be smart," and that girls "don't have to choose sides."
Kelly Parisi, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the USA, says her organization has been working to empower girls in science since its inception, way back in 1913.
At a recent badge activity in Hempstead, New York, Brownies and Juniors made what the volunteer scientists called "flubber", a silly putty-type compound made from glue, Borax, water and food coloring.
Parisi points out, the Girl Scouts offer "over thirty STEM badges in everything from coding to engineering to computer science."
Sean Cohen, chief operating officer at the email marketing firm AWeber, says he believes employers should get more involved in high school programs.
"Create job shadowing programs. Create experiences for young women to get more involved in STEM programs and see that there are careers around that," Cohen says.
Mathews hopes that by starting early, her daughter will know a career in STEM is well within her reach.
"If she wants to, and if she doesn't want to that's great too. I just want her to know what's out there."
Critical thinking challenge: Why might Kelly be more motivated than other women to interest girls in STEM?
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