The challenge of increasing diversity in all STEM fields was discussed in nearly every panel, discussion, and group at the Scientific American/Macmillan Education STEM Summit today. One of my favorite data points came from Dr. Jo Handelsman, Associate Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 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 suggested that our culture seems to celebrate the success of non-STEM career paths, as Jaime Casap, Chief Education Evangelist @ Google noted that his mother was still waiting for him to become a lawyer.
Dr. Handelsman stated there simply isn’t enough diversity (specifically women) in STEM today noting that students will stay away from STEM if they don’t see positive role models. She suggested there are a variety of solutions, but that the entertainment industry bears some responsibility to affect change, sharing 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%.
What say you? Can the entertainment industry can 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? What are we missing? How else can we address increasing all levels of diversity in STEM?