Let’s face it: females are under-represented in STEM fields, and like many other deeply ingrained social issues, this problem is difficult to remedy. However, according to several teachers and students, successful role models can be the key to showing women that they are just as capable of success in these fields as men and encouraging more female students to pursue these fields.
LAHS Alum ‘14 and current Stanford University freshman Katherine Liu, who is well-known in the
Los Altos community for her accomplishments in STEM fields throughout high school, attributes much of her success to the influence of her own role models.
“[My role models are] all extremely involved in their fields, and they’re all working toward solving these incredibly hard problems, whether it’s kickstarting a biotech competition at the university level or rethinking our education system,” Katherine said. “And they’re outspoken about what they’re trying to achieve— they’re known for what they do. I really admire the deep-seated passion they have for their causes.”
From a teacher’s perspective, the importance of role males is equally emphasized. Math teacher Michael Richardson teaches Multivariable Calculus and AP Computer Science, two classes at the school with the widest gap between female and male students. Though he acknowledges the gender gap in his classes, he remembers seeing a much wider divide when he used to teach in Utah.
Richardson attributes the difference to the large number of local role models female students at the school have available.
“Because so many females are in tech jobs all around [the Bay Area], there is a higher visibility [for women in STEM fields].” Richardson said. “As more and more females enter all of these fields, it’s going to make the growing generation realize [that they] could do that too.”
Role models can be influential in a number of ways, and sometimes, it’s just having the opportunity to meet them in person. In a discussion about getting more girls involved in STEM subjects, physics teacher Karen Davis spoke about an employee at Google who came to LAHS for STEM week.
“[She was] one of the best speakers… she was a new grad, female engineer. That’s a great role model for my girls to look up to and go, ‘Oh, ok here’s somebody who’s just a few years older than me.’ Then she talked about her experience in college and working in a place like Google,” Davis said.
Students themselves can have personal interactions with role models, making the inspiration even stronger. Senior Natalia Izaguirre first become exposed to STEM fields through the school’s AVID program, where she had the opportunity to spend a day with Stanford Women in Science members. That experience caused her to being searching for opportunities related to computer science.
Online research led her to discover the trove of resources offered by the Girls Who Code Summer Program. There, she met many inspiring women such as Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg.
“Hearing Sheryl made me realize that the skills we learned during the past seven weeks were essential and that women need to understand it is time to show the man we can do great things or even better,” Natalia said.
Girls Who Code, STEM week, and even the AVID Program are the real mediums through which girls meet inspiring figures and learn about new opportunities to pursue male-dominated fields. In order to see a decrease in a gender disparity, our community should work toward valuing and promoting these entities. Optimism and individual is just one key to success-sometimes an extra boost of encouragement from a role model is what it takes to pave a path toward greater achievement.