Shruti Gautam, a 9-year-old girl in fourth grade at Cumberland Trace Elementary School, wants to be an aerospace engineer because it is “cool.”
She wrote in a little book that she’s working on this fall that aerospace engineers “develop new technology for future explorations,” also noting, “The word engineer might sound hard but aerospace doesn’t.”
Shruti’s book will be published through the GEMS Academy, a program for some gifted students in the Warren County Public Schools that is funded through a five-year grant.
Young girls at GEMS recently talked about their dreams.
“You get to design blueprints that sometimes they will let you see being built,” Bray Jacobs, 8, a third-grader at Cumberland Trace, said about her desire to become an aerospace engineer.
Nora Laughter, 8, also a third-grade student at Cumberland Trace, wants to be an environmental scientist.
“You get to go outdoors a lot. You get to study plants and how fast they grow and plant rare plants,” Nora said.
There are also STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – that allow scientists to explore under the sea.
The aspects of becoming a “scientist diver” excite Samantha Ernest, 8, another third-grader at the school.
“You go out to the ocean and get to see stuff in a submarine,” Samantha said. She’s already taking swimming lessons to prepare for her career goal.
Maya Ganesh, 8, a third-grader at Cumberland Trace Elementary, also has aerospace engineer on her to-do list.
“I like designing things and I like aircraft, she said.
Liberty Adey, 8, a third-grader at Lost River Elementary School, has it worked out to be a scientist someday.
“I like to do experiments,” she said. “I like to discover things that you don’t see every day.”
Lillian Chappell, 8, also a third-grader at Lost River, has her sights set on becoming a veterinarian.
She loves animals, she said, and wants to spend time with them “seeing the bones.”
Shruti and the other girls, unfortunately, are the exception and not the rule as public school officials and higher education administrators try to excite young girls in the STEM disciplines.
Looking at that issue Oct. 12 will be the Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative, which will conduct its fourth annual conference, “Collaboration: The Key to Successful Programming for Girls in STEM,” at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green. This is the first time Bowling Green has hosted the state conference.
The conference is in partnership with The Center for Gifted Studies at Western Kentucky University. Registration for the conference is $25 per person, $10 of which will go toward sponsoring future Kentucky Girls STEM events, according to a WKU news release.
Julia Roberts, director of The Center for Gifted Studies at WKU, said the key is to make STEM discipline course work engaging from the time girls are young, then that excitement about STEM disciplines needs to extend to when the girls reach middle school and, later, high school.
Statistics show young girls get excited about STEM disciplines, but by the time they get to college, the fire is out and they are pursuing other options, said Jennifer Smith, a teacher at the GEMS Academy on Lovers Lane. Smith and fellow teacher David Baxter work with gifted students from Warren County schools at the GEMS Academy. The academy occupies two classrooms in a building behind the district’s administrative offices.
“There is no reason why girls should do that,” Smith said of the girls who are not continuing their pursuit of STEM disciplines.
Statistical profiles show the disparities.
The federal Economics and Statistics Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, looked at gender shares of STEM employment in 2009, the most recent data, and found that women comprised only 24 percent of employment. When looking at all jobs, the ESA found women comprised 48 percent. The 2011 findings may be found at esa.doc.gov/print/Blog/2011/08/03/stem-where-are-women.
The federal ESA study noted there were 2.5 million workers in STEM disciplines who were women, compared to 6.7 million workers in STEM disciplines who were men. Within college degrees, more women – 57 percent – held physical and life sciences degrees, compared to men at 31 percent. However, more than double the amount of men – 48 percent – held engineering degrees, while women held only 18 percent.
According to that research, boys apparently keep their fire for the STEM academics, becoming the engineers, scientists and mathematicians of tomorrow, Smith said.
A Yale University study cited by The New York Times on Sept. 24 showed those little girls with dreams of becoming aerospace engineers and scientists may have to combat hiring bias at American universities later in life because they will be perceived as “less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills.”
The Yale study also notes that “professors were less likely to offer women mentoring or a job. And even if they were willing to offer a job, the salary was lower,” The New York Times reported about the Yale study.
“(The key is) recognizing and honoring the relationship across the disciplines, to see that things don’t happen in isolation,” Baxter said.
Keynote speakers at the Kentucky Girls STEM conference include Claudia Rawn, a researcher at Oakridge National Laboratory and University of Tennessee material science and engineering faculty member; Brian Mefford, Connected Nation founder; and Ron Crouch, director of research and statistics for the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, the release from WKU said.
Smith said local educators can set the table and plant the seeds for the young girls.
“Even if they don’t know about a specific profession, they need to keep their options open,” Roberts said.
— For more information or to register, go to