Last month, Macmillan Higher Education and Scientific American hosted the third annual STEM Summit, an event which brings together over 150 leaders across education, research, business, policy, and technology to discuss issues and challenges of STEM education. The day was filled with outstanding sessions, panels, and interactive discussions featuring, among others, Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy ; Craig Barrett, former CEO Intel; Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist for Google; Joel Klein, CEO Amplify and author Colin Adams, author of Calculus, The Knot Book, and Zombies & Calculus.
The challenge of increasing diversity in all STEM fields was discussed in nearly every panel. One of my favorite data points came from Dr. Jo Handelsman in her session, Making the Case for Change. She noted the immediate need for positive role models for students so that they could identify with and emulate, smart, passionate people in scientific education. It was later suggested that our culture seems to even celebrate the success of any non-STEM career path. Said Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist @ Google, "My mother is still waiting for me to become a lawyer."
Dr. Handelsman stated there simply isn’t enough diversity (specifically women) in STEM today noting that students will continue to stay away from STEM if they don’t begin to see positive role models. She suggested a variety of solutions, but stressed that the entertainment industry bears a large responsibility to affect change. She shared this example on the power of media: In an episode of Happy Days, The Fonz said he was going to the library to pick up girls. The result following that episode? Applications for library cards went up by 500%.
Just hearing it was "cool" to be at the library sent kids flocking to apply for their library cards. Imagine the impact entertainment leaders, shows, or movies could have promoting the importance of STEM education and fields.
What say you? Can the entertainment industry sway our culture to support, embrace, and motivate STEM education paths? Careers?
Aren’t we seeing other amazingly positive role models for young girls (e.g. Girls Who Code)? What other areas or sectors should we look to? How else can we address increasing all levels of diversity in STEM?
I wonder what The Fonz would say?