A High-Schooler’s Resource Guide to Being a Woman in STEM
by Sahithi Medikondla, Press & Written Media Team
In 2019, women made up 27% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers in the United States, which is a considerable gain in comparison to previous years. However, although men may make up 52% of all U.S. workers (an almost even split), they make up 73% of all STEM workers. So, the most common question is why? And it is undoubtedly important to understand that the STEM community does hold considerable biases. These often subject women to difficult environments and standards, whether it be biases pushed by the people in the field or the people in society. But, the question today is not whether women are capable, but rather, why do women feel incapable of pursuing or even discovering their interest in STEM? The answer is complex, but it’s a matter of exposure, resources for success, and the lack of role models that women might be able to look up to for advice.
As Elizabeth Blackburn, the winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, once stated, “I didn’t want just to know the names of things. I remember really wanting to know how it all worked.” So for women, non-binary, transgender, and all people interested in STEM, here is a guide to figuring out how things work.
The 3 C’s: Clubs, Courses, Capstones
Whether it be for college admissions or your interest, summer programs, clubs, internships, and extracurriculars are ways for you to expand both your pre-existing interest in STEM and discover a new passion. The 3 C’s are the various ways that you can broader your understanding of individual STEM fields, whether it be competitively, academically, or as a passion project.
Clubs are a great way to challenge yourself competitively and as a leader. Gaining titles like “captain”, “president”, or “vice president” are ways that you can both be a role model to students but to also develop a community. Whether it’s starting a STEM club or joining one, both are ways to challenge yourself and create opportunities for yourself in the field before college, among other benefits.
Benefits of Club Involvement:
- Exploration of Your Interests: Clubs provide a platform for students to explore and discover their interests outside the regular academic curriculum. Clubs allow students to pursue their passions and develop new hobbies.
- Skill Development: Clubs offer opportunities for students to develop various skills, such as leadership, teamwork, communication, problem-solving, time management, and organization.
- Hands-On Experience: Clubs often involve hands-on activities and projects, providing practical experience that complements classroom learning. This experiential learning can deepen understanding and enhance problem-solving skills.
- Leadership Opportunities: Many clubs allow students to take on leadership roles, such as president, vice president, treasurer, or event coordinator. Serving in these positions helps students develop leadership qualities, build confidence, increase self-esteem, and helps in the college admissions process.
- Building Friendships/Community: Clubs bring together like-minded students with similar interests. Being part of a club creates a sense of community and belonging, leading to lasting friendships, networks, connections, and new opportunities.
Consider starting a club related to a specific topic area such as:
- Robotics Club: designing, building, and programming robots for competitions like FIRST Robotics or VEX Robotics. Clubs in this area are usually about mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer programming.
- Coding Club: learn computer programming skills and programming languages, work on coding projects, and participate in coding competitions like USACO.
- Science Club: a platform for students to engage in hands-on experiments, conduct research projects, and explore various scientific fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science.
- Mathematics Club/Team: promote mathematical thinking, problem-solving skills, and exploration of advanced mathematical concepts beyond the regular curriculum. This can include math competitions that can be conducted at the international level.
- STEM Research Club: encourages students to conduct independent research projects in STEM fields. Clubs in this area work closely with mentors, conduct experiments, and present their findings at science fairs or conferences.
- Medical Club: these clubs encourage understanding of healthcare professions and different fields. This could include anatomy & physiology or other topics related to the human body. There’s also the opportunity to participate in competitive clubs like HOSA.
The first step in starting or joining a club is picking a subject area or topic you’re interested in. Starting a club involves gauging interest, finding advisors, submitting proposals, brainstorming, budgeting, spreading the word, creating opportunities, publicizing, and so much more!
Women in STEM: Girls Who Code
Girls Who Code is a renowned organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology and the computer science field by providing opportunities for girls to learn and excel in coding. Girls Who Code clubs are typically student-led, extracurricular groups that follow the organization’s curriculum and values.
Goals of the club:
- Invite guest speakers, including female professionals from the tech industry, to share their experiences and insights. Field trips to local tech companies or universities allow girls to see firsthand the applications of coding in real-world settings.
- Provides resources like scholarships, internships, career opportunities, and guidance on college applications for pursuing higher education in technology-related disciplines.
Regardless of whether you participate, start, or create your club, the benefits are vast and oftentimes give students a headstart into pursuing their passions and bridging the gender gap in STEM.
Although all three of the 3 C’s require self-motivation and dedicated time and effort, courses, in particular, require the most. For those more interested in academically getting ahead, certifications through courses are the easiest way for students to gain exposure and pursue further specific interests in the STEM field. Certificates are both a way to prove your completion of a course, but also to indicate dedication in completed graded assignments in a school setting.
Consider viewing free resources online:
- Khan Academy: Offers free video lessons and practice exercises covering subjects like mathematics, science, engineering, coding, and more. Although a certification is only given when affiliated with a school or teacher, khan academy is both free and exceptional in its content.
- Coursera: Provides free online courses from top universities and institutions on various topics. While some courses offer certificates for a fee, you can still audit many courses for free.
- edX: Similar to Coursera, edX offers free online courses from reputable universities on subjects like computer science, healthcare, data science, and more. For certificates, there is a fee, but financial aid is an option.
- MIT OpenCourseWare: Provides access to a wide range of courses taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). You can access lecture notes, assignments, and sometimes even video lectures.
Capstones, the last of the 3 C’s, is an undertaking that involves a culmination of your academic experience. Capstone projects are typically undertaken by students in their final year of study, whether in high school, college, or graduate school. It serves as a comprehensive and integrative assignment that allows students to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired throughout their academic journey to a real-world project or research. Most Capstone Projects for high schoolers are independent research or highly coveted summer programs in their junior or senior year. More often than not, Capstone Projects are pivotal ways to “stand out” compared to other students while also pursuing something you’re passionate about to build your portfolio.
Examples of Capstone Projects:
- Research Paper or Thesis: This is one of the most traditional forms of capstone projects, especially in STEM. Students conduct in-depth research on a specific topic within their field of study and present their findings in a comprehensive written document. This is usually through reaching out to professors or participating in a summer program affiliated with a college.
- Design or Engineering Project: In engineering or design-focused programs, students may work on creating prototypes, models, or solutions to real-world problems. These projects often involve hands-on work like building physical products or designing innovative systems.
- Creative Project: Some capstone projects involve creative works, such as podcasts, videos, curricula, or non-profits in a specific area.
- Healthcare or Medical Research Project: Students in healthcare-related fields may undertake research on medical topics, analyze data, or propose new healthcare interventions to improve patient outcomes. It may not be only research and could include shadowing a professional, volunteering, or working at a hospital/clinical practice.
- Computer Science or Software Development Project: Capstone projects in computer science often involve developing software applications, websites, or mobile apps. Students showcase their programming and coding skills in these projects. It could be an internship or a summer program.
Capstone Projects are incredibly individualized. They can be an internship, a publication, a summer program, a website, or other opportunities.
Consider applying to these summer programs:
Age: All students in grades 11–12
Deadline: March 31
Cost: No Cost, however housing and transportation is not provided.
“At CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, rising high school juniors and seniors have the opportunity to spend five days learning about public health. Topics vary and may include public health interventions, chronic disease, injury prevention, data analysis, school wellness programs, environmental health, laboratory technology, disease surveillance, and epidemiology.”
Age: All students in grade 11
Cost: No Cost
“100 high school students gather at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for the Research Science Institute (RSI). RSI is a summer science & engineering program to combine on-campus coursework in scientific theory with off-campus work in science and technology research. Participants experience the entire research cycle from start to finish. They read the most current literature in their field, draft and execute a detailed research plan, and deliver conference-style oral and written reports on their findings. RSI scholars first participate in a week of intensive STEM classes with accomplished professors. The heart of RSI is the five-week research internship where students conduct individual projects under the tutelage of mentors who are experienced, scientists and researchers. During the final week of RSI, students prepare written and oral presentations on their research projects.”
Age: All students currently in grade 11
Deadline: February 10th
Cost: $3046.75 for 7 weeks. Financial Aid is offered.
“The Simons Summer Research Program allows academically talented, motivated high school students to engage in hands-on research in science, math, or engineering at Stony Brook University. Simons Fellows work with distinguished faculty mentors, learn laboratory techniques and tools, become part of active research teams, and experience life at a research university.”
Women in STEM: Kode with Klossy
Age: 13–18 who identify as women, non-binary, or trans
Cost: No Cost
“Kode With Klossy’s flagship program provides the opportunity for young women, gender nonconforming, and trans scholars around the world, ages 13–18, to attend free two-week boot camps that introduce them to key computer science concepts and skills. Scholars collaborate to explore the limitless potential of code and computer science. Selected participants can learn about Web Development, Mobile App Development, Data Science (SOL + Python), and AI & Machine Learning.”
Women in STEM: Girls Who Code
Age: All high school students who identify as girls or non-binary
Cost: No Cost
“Students gain the computer science skills they need to make an impact and prepare for tech careers in our free, virtual summer programs. Summer program participants get exposure to tech jobs, meet leaders in tech careers, and find community in our supportive sisterhood; all while investing in their future selves. GWC offers a 2-week immersion program or a 6-week self-paced experience that will allow students an opportunity to learn in a style that works best for them while making meaningful connections.”
The 3 C’s offer three different approaches to starting your career in STEM. As Elizabeth Blackburn stated, opportunities to discover why things work the way they do is the first step to bridging the gender gap in STEM. Regardless of which of the 3 C’s you choose to follow, all of them will provide an opportunity to succeed in STEM.
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