Industry Leaders, Educators Discuss STEM Challenges at Energy Conference
It’s been an ongoing challenge – attracting, retaining and advancing women in STEM careers. And a panel of experts tackled the issue again at the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy Wednesday.
The panel – consisting of Blair Blackwell, manager, education and corporate programs, Chevron; Dr. Jackeline Gascon, director, Texas-STEM Program, Houston Community College; Louise Goetz, drilling engineering leader, GE Oil and Gas; Paula McCann Harris, director, global social responsibility programs-SEED, Schlumberger; and Sharon Mosher, dean, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin – discussed the challenges of getting and keeping women in STEM and how their organizations are cultivating their internal structure to be more attractive to future generations.
Expectations, Education and Exposure
Most of the panelists expressed that when they were younger, they didn’t know what an engineer was or what an engineer did.
Harris, who also serves on the board for the Houston Independent School District, said the biggest challenge in attracting more women and minorities to STEM is three-fold: expectations, education and exposure.
For example, computer science should be considered part of math or science curriculum, rather than extra credit, she said. Kids aren’t taking computer science because they don’t get credit for it or teachers are paid more to teach something like keyboarding.
Also, educators and parents should raise their expectations for students by encouraging girls to take AP courses rather than just regular courses.
In regards to exposure, Harris identified herself with many kids, growing up in an environment that didn’t provide the exposure to STEM opportunities.
“It’s not that [the kids] aren’t smart, capable or intellectual,” she said. “They haven’t been exposed. They don’t have the dad who’s in the industry or the mom working as a professor. They just don’t know.”
Harris said the industry and educators have to make sure that girls know the advantages of using a STEM degree to get what they want out of their career.
“I always tell my daughter, who is a great math student, ‘you can be a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, but you have to do it with an engineering degree.’”
A lack of financial opportunities is another challenge, Gascon noted, adding that Houston Community College System is addressing that by offering the Texas-Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) grant to students pursuing STEM degrees. HCC has been awarded 200 scholarships totaling $525,000 for the 2015-2016 academic year.
Blackwell said a big challenge is girls not seeing individuals who look like them as role models.
During outreach, Blackwell said it’s important to make sure to take some younger employees who may be a little closer in age to a middle-school students so that the students can better identify.
“STEM is hard. By providing role models and mentors who can go out and speak to a lot of girls and say ‘it didn’t work for me the first time’ or ‘I got a C in that class’ can help,” Blackwell said. “We’re all perfectionists. We want to do it right the very first time and often times get discouraged if we don’t. Giving those examples to girls very early shows them resilience and they can have that support once they get to the high school level.”
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