No Limits, No Ceilings: Women Teaching in Science Technology Engineering and Math
A Comprehensive Guide For Women Interested in Teaching In the STEM Fields
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
Life as we know it is so inextricably tied to science, technology, engineering and math that it’s not even something we think about as being separate from our daily lives. In fact, at its best, it’s so seamlessly interwoven into what we do it doesn’t give us any reason to think about it. And it didn’t take long for that to happen. Thirty years ago the World Wide Web wasn’t worldwide at all… it existed in a tiny laboratory in Switzerland on only a handful of machines. A generation and a half later, it’s where we all gather, work, play, learn and procure the necessities of life. The story of this evolution runs in such close parallel to our own that some believe the two have already intersected.
Don’t worry, we’re not here to make artsy allusions to the singularity and this is where the Kurzweil references end, but there is no way to do justice to any discussion about what STEM means to humanity and where it’s all heading without at least a tacit acknowledgement of how it’s changed us, and changed our notion of what’s possible.
We’ve come to a place where we hardly even believe anymore that hard limits exist in the sphere of technology and engineering, as it’s proven time and again that by marshaling the power of STEM this little species of ours is far more capable than anyone imagined a couple generations back. So you better believe that by taking your talent in any aspect of STEM and running it through a formal teacher training program, you will come out on the other side with all the capabilities you need to make a career out of teaching it.
More Women Teaching STEM Could Begin to Address the Imbalance of Women Working in STEM Fields
As critical as STEM jobs are to modern America, the country is coming up short on filling them. In 2018 alone, the overall lack of qualified candidates left more than 2 million STEM jobs unfilled in the country.
Part of the problem is that those fields are some of the most education-intensive in the world. According to Pew Research, almost three in ten STEM workers hold a postgraduate degree, a rate roughly twice that of non-STEM occupations.
But there are also critical shortages of educators with the right training for those tough science and math subjects; the Learning Policy Institute identified 40 states experiencing a shortage of math teachers and 42 without enough science teachers.
And with all the challenges STEM education is facing, it’s more important than ever that those teachers are up to the task of making sure the girls in the class are brought into the fold, and in general, preparing all promising students for the educational long haul. Even with more than 2.6 million college freshmen showing up on campuses around the country to pursue STEM degrees, only around half will actually graduate with a degree in those fields. And most of those who make it through will be men.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2016, almost 60 percent of STEM degrees were conferred to men, and only 42 percent to women. That imbalance only increases on the job. The Census Bureau reports that 86 percent of engineers and 74 percent of computer professionals are men.
As a woman pursuing a career in teaching in STEM education, you’re going to almost immediately face a paradox in this area: although men dominate in actual STEM occupations, the situation is reversed when it comes to education: the 2016 National Teacher and Principal Survey found that between 62 and 65 percent of K-12 science and math teachers were women. Those strong role models are important; overall trends in college education have seen female enrollment and graduation rates jump out ahead of males in recent years.
But the disparity in the overall number of men in the technology workforce versus women persists. While women graduating in STEM fields have increased by nearly 50 percent versus an only 38 percent bump for men since 2009, the law of large numbers skews the perspective: although that means 70,000 more women entered the workforce with science degrees in 2016 than in 2009, that same year saw more than 126,000 more men graduating in those areas. At this rate, the disparity in quantifiable areas such as publication rates between male and females scientists will take around 120 years or so to even out.
We’re hoping you aren’t satisfied with just waiting around for that to happen, though. As a woman heading into STEM education, you’re going to be landing in a place with exactly the right leverage to shift that equation.
“With a big enough education and a classroom in which to stand, you can change the world.”
– Female contemporary of Archimedes; name unknown
As a woman on your way to a job teaching in STEM, you’re going to be in the unique position of sitting on both sides of the table, in a field where woman are underrepresented in general while working in the education system where women still rule… and hopefully you’ll gain a unique and valuable perspective along the way. The trends behind gender disparities in STEM are multi-causal and subject to numerous interpretations, which makes addressing them tough.
Everyone can agree on a few core pieces of data:
- At the K-12 level, male and female students both show similar levels of skill and participation in math and science courses.
- Pursuit of math and science at the college level decreases dramatically among female students, with only 18 percent receiving computer science degrees, 20 percent engineering, 40 percent physical sciences, and 43 percent mathematics.
- Participation further drops in the workforce, with 40 percent of women who do earn engineering degrees either quitting the field within five years or not taking an engineering position at all after graduation.
But it wasn’t always that way…
Women dominated programming in the 1940s through 1960s, but for all the wrong reasons.The hardware and electronic engineering of the machines was the prestige job with the high pay. Simply getting those machines to do something productive was seen as an afterthought, quite the opposite of what we find today as software typically gets far more press than the machines it resides on, or at least as much, as is the case with ios and Apple products.
Grace Hopper was already a mathematics professor when wartime production demands hit the United States in 1941. With modern warfare came unprecedented demands for technical calculation—engineering and design of ships and warplanes, calculations of ballistics and trajectory for shells and bombs. Those pressures resulted in the creation of the first electro-mechanical computers before they eventually went digital.
Grace left the classroom and joined the Navy to do her part, and her skills quickly placed her on the team running the IBM Mark I… the computer that was to provide some of the critical calculations for the Manhattan Project.
But her vision went beyond the exigencies of the war effort. Programming the Mark I and other early computers was a tedious exercise in turning dials, setting switches, or punching cards to enter machine code for processing. Hopper imagined a world where anyone could enter code, however, where the machine would accept programs created from plain English words. She was scoffed at.
By 1952, however, Hopper had written the A-0 system, a loader-linker that was a precursor to today’s compilers, which allow modern computer languages like C++ to be written by humans but understood by machines. It was the beginning of COBOL, COmmon Business Oriented Language, a revolutionary mainframe language that is still running important banking and government systems today.
After teams of primarily female programmers accomplished such feats as coding the cutting-edge computers for the Apollo spacecraft and creating new computer languages like COBOL, the guys started to catch on… software was where it was at. And through the late ’60s and ’70s, more men were promoted to positions of authority, and fewer women were hired, and with a few singular exceptions, men came to dominate the tech industry just as it really started popping off.
A Root Cause Analysis of STEM Gender Disparities
Engineers spend a lot of time working to solve problems by using a root cause analysis. If the symptom of a dysfunctional system is that fewer women than men end up working in STEM fields, and those that do aren’t paid as well and are less likely to continue in that career path, then simply importing women into the STEM pipeline isn’t enough… and, as you can see from the stats, it really hasn’t been working.
Solving problems you don’t understand is pure luck, and science is about understanding, not chance. To get through your education, and to help other women advance their own education in STEM, you need to get at the roots of the problem.
Women in STEM Fields Start Off As Girls Interested in STEM
Despite having similar talent and interests, too few girls are choosing to even embark on STEM degree programs. And without those degrees, it’s almost impossible to get jobs in the industry.
The reasons for this come down to encouragement and expectations. Microsoft has studied the problem and found that girls lose interest in STEM subjects as they grow older… a combination of sociocultural expectations and stereotypes leads them into other career paths outside the STEM fields, despite their earlier interests and the lucrative nature of the jobs.
That this is happening despite the many programs and all the emphasis placed on getting more girls into these subjects suggests that the problem extends far beyond education… in fact, the Microsoft research found that attitudes at home could have a profound influence on how interested girls are in science, technology, engineering and math, increasing their active participation and interest by as much as 31 percent.
But it’s a group effort… when both parents and teachers are encouraging them, that number goes up as high as 40 percent. As a teacher you’ll be a role model, but you’ll also want to work to involve parents, help shape their attitudes and let them know how far a little extra support at home can go to encourage girls to stick with their natural talents and let it take them all the way to college and beyond.
The Culture and Environment in the Tech Industry Requires Women to Be Extra Persistent and Disciplined
Many of the same cultural issues impact women who are currently studying STEM subjects and causing them to drop out along the way. Women leave STEM programs in higher proportions to their male counterparts, citing an overly competitive culture and even flat out discrimination in the department.
Most importantly, however, it’s rarely one factor. There are also studies that suggest that growing gender equality, paradoxically, is behind the drop-out rate. As more high-paying positions open up in other fields that were previously unavailable to women, they may feel less pressure to deal with the rigors of STEM programs… explaining the strange finding that countries with less of an achievement gap commonly have fewer women pursuing STEM careers than countries where that achievement gap is more pronounced.
It’s also part of a larger feedback loop. When there are fewer women in a given STEM doctoral program, for example, the graduation rates among the women in the program goes down.
These are bigger problems than any high school math or science teacher will be able to overcome on their own as they try to be more inclusive of girls, but understanding the issues can help you become the kind of teacher that prepares girls for the challenges they will face along the way.
Challenges Persist for Women Even After They Are In the STEM Workforce
Just getting through a STEM degree program turns out to be no guarantee that someone will actually take a job in that field. Almost 40 percent of women who go to the trouble of earning engineering degrees don’t end up going into the field.
This is not equally true of all STEM fields, however, which suggests that the culture in each of them have a lot to do with it. And that is something you can begin to address as a woman teaching in the field by implementing zero tolerance policies for sexist attitudes, stereotypes, or reinforcing outmoded gender roles in group projects—not in your classroom, not in your department, and not in your world.
The issue continues even after women enter the STEM workforce. Only five percent of leadership positions in the technology industry are held by women. Only one in four startups have a female founder, and less than half have a female board member. Those startups that are started by women have more challenges finding funding than those founded by men.
Those are discouraging numbers that tend to push women out of many STEM industries even after they have achieved a foothold.
But once again, there is something more going on in STEM. Women in other industries report as high or higher rates of sexist discrimination and harassment… but the gender imbalances are nowhere near as extreme.
Instead, it may have more to do with cultural and industry expectations around parenting. An eight-year longitudinal study found that the greatest increase in attrition in STEM occurred between four to seven years after the birth or adoption of a first child… at a rate of fully 43 percent for women, but only 23 percent for men.
Why this is such a problem in technology versus other industries is an open question. It may be the demands and expectations placed on professionals in the tech industry and other STEM fields.
Pushing back against this expectation might, ironically, require accepting that men can serve as primary caregivers of children on an equal basis as women. If men are seen as co-equal in that respect, industries as a whole will be more likely to develop more parent-friendly policies.
Breaking It Down By Field: How Women are Currently Represented in Different Areas of STEM
Working women crossed a historic line in December of 2020, becoming a majority of the American workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, representing just a few points over the 50 percent mark for the proportion of jobs held nationwide. Even though women continue to represent a bit less than thirty percent of the science and engineering workforce, you and your female students will face vastly different prospects depending on the field:
Life, Physical and Medical Science
These are the fields where women continue to have a strong presence. According to BLS, 46.7 percent of these jobs are held by women. And they have been making big gains here, with the women’s share of those jobs increasing by 16 percent since 1990 alone.
With degrees in medicine or biology, high-paying positions with pharmaceutical, academic, or government agencies working in healthcare or research services are available. Degrees in economics, anthropology, or other social sciences can lead to careers in government or academia. The common thread is in working to improve society through scientific understanding of culture, health, and economics.
Women hold a majority of those medical and social science positions, while occupying about a third of material science jobs in industry and manufacturing and about the same for environmental science jobs, either performing impact studies for industry or with non-profits and government agencies.
- Medical Scientists – 52.1% Women – $88,790
- Biological Scientists – 47.5% Women – $87,590
- Chemists and Materials Scientists – 37.7% Women – $78,790
- Environmental Scientists – 33.1% Women – $71,360
(Shown with the proportion of women working in each role along with the median salary.)
Katalin Karikó was never the typical American college student. For one thing, she was originally from Hungary. But when she had an opportunity to continue her postdoctoral studies at Temple University, she and her husband sold their car for $1,200, stuffed the money into their daughter’s teddy bear for safety, and moved the whole family to Philadelphia.
Her studies there on AIDS and hematological disease led her into investigations of messenger RNA, or mRNA. It wasn’t a popular field of study and she was rejected for grant after grant. Self-doubt filled her days. The University of Pennsylvania, where she had taken a job as a professor, demoted her to adjunct status, telling her she “was not of faculty quality.”
But in 2006 she and a colleague developed and patented a technique for synthesizing mRNA to fight diseases. By 2013 she took a position at a small German biotech firm named BioNTech, leading their mRNA research efforts.
When SARS-CoV-2 hit, BioNTech partnered with Pfizer to use their groundbreaking mRNA technology to develop a vaccine for the virus just two days after it had been genetically sequenced. After rigorous testing, it became the first mRNA vaccine ever authorized.
The second such vaccine was from Moderna. In a twist, however, it was also based on Karikó’s work—the University of Pennsylvania had sold her patent rights to another company, which then licensed them to Moderna for production of its own vaccine. Together, they will save millions of lives… all due to a woman whose “faculty-quality” turned out to be a lot higher than the people who let her go.
Computer Science, Math and Statistics
Once a small subset of STEM jobs, these positions now dominate. Fully half of all STEM jobs are in computer science, ranging from coding to data processing to systems administration. But this is also where the greatest gender gap exists, with only a quarter of these jobs belonging to women overall.
When people express concern over the accessibility of STEM jobs for women, it’s this category they are predominantly thinking of. These are also among the highest paying jobs in STEM. Jobs in these well-respected, lucrative positions also come with a kind of flexibility that has proven important in recent years, especially with the growing movement toward working remotely.
- Statisticians – 53.8% Women – $95,680
- Computer Systems Analysts – 37.5% Women – $90,920
- Web Developers – 32.5% Women – $73,760
- Computer Support Specialists – 28.1% Women – $54,760
- Software Developers – 19.3% Women – $107,510
(Shown with the proportion of women working in each role along with the median salary.)
Statistics is a field that will be key for women in STEM to watch in the years ahead; like programming once was, it is currently majority female. Yet the prevalence of data science in every industry is raising the profile of anybody skilled in stats, and pushing salaries skyward. Will women be able to hold their position of prominence this time around?
Architecture and Engineering
A 15.9 percent overall participation rate makes this the category where women have had the least success. Manufacturing, and construction fields have been historically difficult for women to break into, often presenting unwelcoming or even hostile work environments with their close association of white and blue-collar workers. That is a large part of the explanation behind the fact that almost 40 percent of women who go to the trouble of earning engineering degrees don’t end up accepting a position in the field.
These jobs call for strong mathematical skills and a practical approach to problem-solving in real-world conditions. They create things—buildings, bridges, ships, roads—and take on responsibility for the safety and efficiency of the infrastructure that modern society counts on.
- Architects – 29.7% Women – $80,750
- Industrial Engineers – 23% Women – $88,020
- Civil Engineers – 14.8% Women – $87,060
- Mechanical Engineers – 10.9% Women – $88,430
(Shown with the proportion of women working in each role along with the median salary.)
Teaching in STEM Starts With Learning in STEM
The good news about teaching in STEM today is that the kids—male and female alike—are all as interested and motivated as ever. According to the Department of Education, three-quarters of Americans say they liked science as kids. But almost 70 percent of them went on to say that while they were interested in the subjects, they didn’t like how it was being taught.
Not only does that take some of the spark out of the early interest that both boys and girls have in STEM, it also affects their preparedness for more advanced coursework in those fields. The Smithsonian Science Education Center reports that almost 80 percent of high school graduates don’t meet benchmark readiness to enter college-level courses in math or science.
The good news hidden within those numbers is that the potential to succeed in those fields is already there. There’s no need to evangelize to students to convince them to like science and technology and to consider entering STEM fields. That’s already what they want. Your job is only to make it possible for them to live out that dream.
That means building not only your core expertise in those subjects, but also developing the kind of communication skills and empathy it takes to be a rock star educator. You’ll have to reach a broad range of students in the course of your career, girls included, and not only get them prepared for rigorous scientific studies, but also keep them excited and motivated about continuing to learn more.
You need a particular kind of education to hit all those marks.
The National Center for Education Statistics found that around 30 percent of physics and chemistry teachers working in public high schools had not majored in those fields and had not earned a certificate to teach in those subjects. Fully half of earth science teachers were similarly un-credentialed.
The hard sciences are not alone in this quandary; only around two third of history teachers majored in history, for example. But STEM classes are not a place where you can fudge an answer or fall back on showing the class a movie and discussing it. Successfully teaching science and math requires actually understanding science and math.
That means that before you can become a successful STEM teacher, you are going to have to be a successful STEM student.
Pathways to Becoming a Licensed STEM Teacher
Many teachers know that they want to teach STEM before they even enter college, and design their educational plan to include a bachelor’s degree in their field with the state-approved initial teacher preparation coursework and student teaching required for a license built right in.
But for some STEM teachers, the process can look a little different. You may come to teaching relatively late in your education or even after you’ve already embarked on a career.
That’s no problem! Most states have a number of different options for becoming a teacher that can fit perfectly with your individual background or career choices.
States typically denote your teaching qualifications in a specific field through the use of endorsements to your teaching license once you’ve established you have the knowledge to teach a particular subject.
STEM endorsements are usually found in general science and math for those teaching the lower grades, and in specific areas of the sciences for secondary teachers, which may include:
- Computer Science
- Earth & Space Science
But since different states have different options or gradations, your final verification of the specific STEM endorsements available to you needs to be through your state licensing board.
The types of endorsements offered will vary from state-to-state, as will the criteria to qualify for them. Those criteria usually involve one of three different paths:
- Complete a teacher preparation program – This is the standard path for anybody getting into teaching, whether that means straight out of a bachelor’s-level ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) program or as a career changer with an existing bachelor’s who takes the ITP curriculum and student teaching as part of a master’s program. Candidates have to undergo a suitable and usually pre-approved ITP program in the field in which the endorsement will be awarded.
- Test-only – This option is typically reserved for existing STEM teachers who already have their teaching degree and credentials and just need additional endorsements to teach other STEM subjects.
Candidates must pass a knowledge-based test in the endorsement area, usually through a standardized test system that has been picked by the state educator licensing board, such as the WEST series of exams in Washington or the CSET in California.
- National Board certification – Many states accept certifications awarded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, where those Board certifications have a direct equivalency to a state-level endorsement. At this time the only STEM-related certification available through NBPTS is for general mathematics for early adolescence or adolescence and young adult students. Board certifications are notoriously challenging, but it often comes with salary and promotion benefits.
Bachelor’s Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) programs
Most traditional teacher training programs start with a bachelor’s degree that incorporates the necessary coursework to qualify graduates for their teaching license. Those vary by college, but you can expect the initial teacher training programs to align with the licenses offered in your state. For example, they may be structured as Elementary Education or Secondary education, cover K-12, K-8, or 8th through 12th grade – it all depends on the licensing structure and options in your state.
As a rule, teaching high school, and often middle grades, science and math, requires a degree in the respective STEM field, not in education in general.
That could mean a major in Math, Biology, Physics, Computer Science, etc with a concentration in teaching to indicates that it includes the ITP courses you need to become licensed. Many are also purpose-built majors for preparing for a career as a teacher, and are marketed as bachelor’s in
Mathematics Education, Computer Science Education, Biology Education, etc.
Although colleges might structure these programs differently, they all offer a similar level of rigor and some variation on the same courses, and ultimately result in the same teaching credential.
In either case, entering a bachelor’s program that includes an ITP course sequence and student teaching smooths the process of becoming a teacher considerably. You will be surrounded by other students on the same path, taking classes from instructors who understand your goals and teach specifically to them while emphasizing the practical aspects of being an educator.
Post-Baccalaureate ITP programs
Many of those same schools offer certificate programs that incorporate only the ITP-required training for licensure. These programs are aimed at anyone who has already earned a bachelor’s degree in the subject they plan to teach, but through a non-teacher prep program that didn’t include the student teaching and pedagogical coursework they need to become licensed.
This is a common path for STEM teachers, who may be looking for a very rigorous concentration in the hard science coursework necessary to master the field. This option frees you up to select the best possible bachelor’s program in your teaching subject area, without any compromises based on the limited bachelor’s ITP options that might be available in your area.
Once you have that primary degree under your belt, the post-bacc certificate will take care of the necessary education-specific coursework and student teaching experiences you need to become licensed. These certificates are often offered by the same schools as the bachelor’s ITP programs, and often with the same endorsement concentration options. But your solid grounding in the field will make those concentrations secondary to your current expertise.
Master’s ITP programs
Similar to the post-bacc ITP option, but conferring a full degree, master’s-level initial teacher prep programs are exactly what the name implies. Although they’re primarily thought of as the standard pathway for career changers who have decided to become teachers after earning a bachelor’s and working in another field, because master’s degrees are so common in STEM fields, it’s sometimes the preferred option for aspiring teachers looking for the best of all worlds – an extremely rigorous education in both their STEM field and in education, often with some industry experience working in that STEM field in-between.
Having earned a regular bachelor’s degree in the field of your choice, you can then enroll at the master’s level in a program that includes the required ITP coursework for your formal licensure. You come out the other side with both an advanced degree and the necessary credentials to step into the classroom, often backed by some experience in the field that you might have gained before deciding you wanted to pursue teaching.
Of course, a master’s is a lot of work, particularly in the sciences. It involves another two-years of study, much of it self-directed, with an expectation that you bring original ideas and research to the field and strongly defend and possibly even publish them in a professional journal. You’ll be involved in cutting-edge research and immersed in the serious academia of your field, all in the context of teaching– it’s real experience doing real science that you can draw on in the classroom to educate and inspire.
With teacher shortages creating real problems in many states, some state licensing boards are also starting to open up alternate routes into teaching that are not strictly based on education.
In California, for example, anyone who has been teaching in a private school (which does not require state licensure) now has the option of obtaining state credentials through demonstrated experience rather than completion of an ITP program. The state has also introduced a program through which individuals can begin teaching immediately on an internship basis while completing certain required coursework outside an ITP program to earn their teaching license.
These are sometimes combined with endorsement waivers that can be obtained by professionals with education and experience in their fields and are aimed squarely at getting non-traditional teachers into the classroom… perfect for accomplished STEM professionals who decide to turn to teaching to give back to the community.
Becoming Nationally Certified in STEM Teaching
All you need to become a STEM teacher is that degree and a state license and endorsement. But if you want to take it a step further, it’s worth looking into earning a nationally recognized certification. It’s completely elective, and isn’t specific to women per se, but a certification of this sort removes all questions about your level of preparedness, mastery of the content area knowledge, and your ability to teach it.
National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
The gold standard in teaching certifications comes from the NBPTS, which has rigorous standards but also impressive benefits to those educators who can meet them. Certifications are available in Career and Technical Education, Mathematics, and Science for STEM fields, and many districts boost salaries based on your Board credentials, and states often count it toward licensure or license renewal. The Board has research showing that certified teachers positively impact student learning, and, for women teaching STEM, it’s important that the Board is an actively inclusive organization.
National Institute for STEM Education
Although NISE isn’t as broadly known or entrenched in the community as NBPTS, it does offer a more specific focus on STEM teaching certification. The organization certified not only teachers, but also campuses and even entire districts, taking exactly the sort of holistic approach that is required to really impact STEM outcomes. An online learning portal also makes it easier to qualify while fitting the required competency-based testing into your busy schedule.
Options Available to Women Paying For a First-Rate STEM Teacher Education
Because STEM is so education intensive, you’re likely to find yourself having a heftier tuition bill at the end of the day than your counterparts in English and social studies. Between your primary degree, a teaching certification program, and quite possibly a master’s, you’re going to want to find assistance in covering the costs of a STEM education.
The many scholarships dedicated to STEM degrees are a good place to start.
Scholarships can offer a big boost to women heading into STEM teaching. You are in a sweet spot for eligibility—qualifying for many options that cater either directly to female STEM students generally as well as those that are designed for any student destined for STEM education roles. On top of all those, you have full access to the many, many scholarships that are awarded every year to future teachers in general.
Women Techmakers – $10,000
Big tech companies know they have problems with female representation in their workforces, and many of them are putting real money into resolving those issues. Google is one of the most generous, offering $10,000 grants as part of its much larger Women Techmakers program to women enrolling in full-time bachelor’s programs in computer science, engineering, or a closely related technical field. You will have to provide a transcript, resume, and references while answering four essay questions to establish your qualities as a leader and your passion for increasing women’s involvement in technology—easy to demonstrate as someone planning to teach in the field.
Society of Women Engineers Scholarship Program – $15,000
Major professional organizations for women in various STEM disciplines are also a good bet for substantial financial supports. SWE put out more than $830,000 in scholarship funds to more than 230 students in 2018, and they have some of the lightest requirements for applying out there—identify as female and plan on studying full-time at an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology)-accredited program in engineering, technology, or computing. You’ll have to provide a transcript, resume, one personal and one faculty accreditation, and a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
Virginia Heinlein Memorial Scholarship – $2,500
Just as many women as men are inspired to enter STEM fields by reading science fiction, and the classic works of Robert Heinlein are classics of the genre. It’s only fitting that this scholarship for full-time bachelor’s students in a math, engineering, or biological or physical science program is offered in the name of the woman who inspired him most: chemist, biochemist, and engineer Virginia Heinlein, his wife. Your short bio and career goals, along with a 500 to 1,000 word essay on the themes that inspired Heinlein are all it takes for you to have a shot at this award.
The Science Ambassador Scholarship – Full Tuition Coverage
This prestigious and competitive grant comes from an unusual place that many girl geeks are nonetheless likely to appreciate: the creators of the game Cards Against Humanity are willing to put up your full tuition if you’re a woman studying in STEM. You’ll need to put together a three minute video discussing a STEM topic that you are passionate about, making it educational and accurate. Think of it as a try-out for a classroom position!
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers – $1,000 to $13,000
Big professional associations sometimes have deep pockets and a real incentive to dole out big-time scholarship funds to future professionals in their field. That’s the case ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which offers a whole array of different scholarships at different levels of education, areas of study, and even for regions of origin or the location where your school is based.
Davidson Institute Fellows Scholarships – $10,000 – $50,000
General scholarships for college students from big non-profits are also yours for the taking, like the array of different areas for which the Davidson Institute offers scholarships for gifted students. The Institute names Fellows in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics as well as an intriguing category called Outside the Box which opens up all sorts of opportunities. The organization was ranked among the seven most prestigious undergrad scholarships in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
TEACH Grant Program – $4,000
The Teach Grant stands on its own as one of the best government-sponsored reimbursement options available to anybody teaching STEM – women as much as anybody. The government is well aware of the strategic implications of falling behind in producing qualified educators in high-need fields, particularly in low-income areas of the country. That’s a deficiency the TEACH grants were designed to make up for, by offering up to $4,000 annually for students planning to teach in fields like math and science and willing to commit to serving for at least four years as a teacher in a low-income school after graduating college. The program has high standards for academics and requires that you enroll in an eligible program, but can be one of those wonderful grants that give you money for doing something you were already planning to do anyway.
Student Loan Forgiveness
Federal student loans have long had fairly generous forgiveness options for teachers, both to ensure qualified graduates in specific subjects, and to funnel them into at-need regions of the country.
Similar to the TEACH grants, you can qualify for student loan forgiveness of up to $17,500 as a highly-qualified full-time math or science teacher under the federal Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. To be considered highly-qualified, you only need to meet three requirements:
- Hold at least a bachelor’s degree
- Receive full state certification as a teacher
- Not hold that certification under waivers
On top of that, if you elect to take a position at a federal, state, local, or tribal government or certain non-profits on a full-time basis, you may qualify for additional forgiveness after having made at least 120 payments under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
It is necessary to plan ahead to take advantage of these programs; not all types of loans qualify, particularly those obtained from private lenders. Check the program sites for current details on loan types and qualification requirements.
It Takes a Village To Teach Girls Science and Technology
As you can tell from the graduation rates, identifying colleges that offer the right kind of support for female STEM students like yourself isn’t always automatic.
Your degree options will largely be dictated by your scientific and teaching interests, but beyond that you can evaluate potential schools on the basis of their support for female STEM students. Look for characteristics like:
- Mentorship programs, putting you under the wing of current women working as professionals in the field
- Student organizations dedicated to support female STEM students
- Colleges that track and publish their graduation rates by gender in these fields. You don’t change what you don’t track, and schools that are serious about improving their track record and doing a good job of it will be proud to show off those results.
It’s an interesting fact that as you think about getting the support you need to be a successful STEM teacher you naturally start thinking about all the ways you’ll be able to offer that same kind of support and encouragement to the girls that end up in your classroom in the years ahead. It should be clear by now that you aren’t going to singlehandedly transform disparities in STEM during your career as a teacher—they result from too many systemic factors outside of your control.
Yet it’s equally clear that you will have a critical role both in nudging those factors in the right direction, and in being the key difference in the lives of potentially thousands of individual girls and boys who may or may not pursue a career in STEM themselves.
It’s possible that some of this is exactly what influenced your decision to become a teacher in the first place. Every trend in the world can line up against a student, but with the right person inspiring them at the right time, they can overcome immense odds.
“It is not lost on me that a lot of people invested in me. For me, computer science has enabled me in one generation to really turn my life pretty much from… nothing to something.” ~ Marline Saintil, COO for R&D and IT at Change Healthcare
The culture corollary suggests that it’s not just important for girls to see female leaders in science and technology… it’s equally important for boys to be exposed to the idea that women can succeed in those fields as well. Your role is to inspire everyone in your classes, regardless of gender, and to normalize the idea of successful women in the sciences.
Offering Inspiration Along With Science is Key for Women STEM Teachers
It’s not enough for you to stand up at the front of the room and look empowered. You will need to reach out and use what you know about motivation to provide real inspiration to the girls in your classroom.
Because creativity is such a motivator, hands-on projects and problem-solving roles can go a lot further toward inspiring girls than stacks of math homework. The sense of discovery and creation is something that everyone loves, but it may play a special role in inspiring girls to continue studying STEM.
Science is a process of pursuing failure to find truth.
Teaching failure may be another underrated aspect of inspiring girls in STEM. Microsoft’s research suggests that boys tend to take more risks, while girls are acculturated to seek perfection. But science is a process of pursuing failure to find truth. Finding ways to push students to fail, but to view failure as productive rather than diminishing, will be a key part of the work you do.
Resources for STEM Teachers and Learners
Although you will have a vital role in the education of every single one of your students, no one is expecting you to do it alone. There is no shortage of community resources for both teachers and learners for you to tap into along the way.
Girls Who Code
As one of the most highly-engaged organizations in STEM education for girls, Girls Who Code works with girls from 3rd through 12th grade through summer immersion programs, clubs, and tons of online lesson plans and at-home practice to get girls excited about computer programming. The organization relies on research efforts to build data-driven solutions and believes through outreach and other efforts that the gender gap in entry-level tech jobs can be closed in the next handful of years.
The Technovation Challenge introduces girls to two important ideas at the same time: one, that they can learn coding skills and work collaboratively to master technology, and two, that they can use that power to solve real-world problems in their own communities. Girls between 10 and 18 work together to identify a real-world issue to solve, then are mentored through the process of developing an app-based solution and marketing it.
Ada Lovelace is the patron saint of female engineers and programmers everywhere, well ahead of her time as a mathematician in the early 1800s who helped develop the first theoretical approaches to mechanical computing. This organization supports women in STEM in Ada’s memory, providing a network through which girls learning science and technology can find one-to-one mentorship and content designed specifically for them.
The Curie Academy
Marie Curie was another breakthrough female scientist, and the Curie Academy, run by Cornell University, is a one-week residential program designed for high school girls who excel in math and science. They take part in an interactive research project with their peers and get the opportunity to participate in hands-on scientific projects introducing them to college-level STEM studies.
Girlstart aims to empower girls nationwide through innovative but informal STEM education programs. The organization specializes in developing materials for parents and educators to put together STEM activities and curriculum to educate girls and promote their interest in science and math. They run a variety of after school programs, a summer camp, and an annual conference for girls in the 4th through the 8th grade to develop a hands-on appreciation for science and technological development.
National Girls Collaborative Project
NGCP goes wide with their approach to supporting women in STEM by seeking to bring together and strengthen local STEM-focused organizations around the country. They offer one-stop shopping for parents seeking out local partners who can offer opportunities for girls interested in STEM, and they offer mini-grants, webinars, and other developmental resources to those partner programs themselves.
The National Science Foundation
The NSF is mostly about identifying and funding promising scientific and engineering research. But it’s also dedicated to filling that role in a way that broadens participation and diversity in the field… core interests for women in STEM. Both through funding efforts and collaborative committees such as the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering, NSF can offer you the resources to help assess and improve inclusivity in science and math education at your school.
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Just from the name, you can tell that this organization is a perfect match for women teaching in STEM. Since 1848, it has been a voice for science in societal and policy issues, strengthening and diversifying the science and technology workforce, and building communication among scientists, engineers, and the general public… all of the important elements involved in changing the culture of STEM to become more accepting of women.
National Science Teaching Association
The NSTA represents science teachers at the elementary, high school, and college levels, so no matter what kind of science or what grade level you teach, this is the association that is looking out for your interests. More than 40,000 teachers, administrators, scientists, and business and industry professionals are members, which opens up a broad network when it is time to look for innovative ideas or mentorship.
International Stem Education Association
ISEA works to bridge the connection between classrooms and the workforce through offering best teaching practices, curriculum models, and recognition of outstanding STEM educators and programs.
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2019. BLS salary data represents median earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. Conditions in your area may vary. This data does not represent starting salaries.
All salary and employment data accessed December 2020.