By Ella Nilsen
The Keene Sentinel, N.H.
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM for short, is a career field that takes a lot of education and pays off with enviable salaries.
It’s also a career field dominated by men.
Only 24 percent of the entire STEM workforce is made up of women, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
That has a lot to do with perception; a 2010 report by the American Association of University Women found that stereotypes about girls not being good at math and science affected their interest in the subjects.
But programs encouraging girls to enter the field are growing.
On Friday, a group of 28 freshman girls from Keene High School traveled with Cheshire Career Center Interim Director Thomas Burke to the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Women in Science and Technology Forum for High School Girls at the University of New Hampshire in Manchester.
There, they attended speeches and workshops, listening to women in successful STEM careers talk about their experiences.
Over the course of the day, the girls heard from an electronics technician in the U.S Navy, clinical pharmacists and the event’s keynote speaker, Dr. Ann Marie Thomas, an engineering professor educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The girls had a lot of great things to say about their trip to Manchester.
“We all really liked it,” said 14-year-old Maggie Cahoon. “They’re finally realizing women are needed as much as men in (these) careers. … It’s good that they’re doing it now so that we can prepare ourselves to be what we want to be.”
Maggie said she is interested in entering the medical field someday, possibly to be a doctor.
“In 5th grade, I decided I want to do a medicine-type thing,” she said, adding she’s always been interested in math and science.
Right now, Maggie’s taking the earth and space honors class and algebra honors. But she said she’s especially excited to start learning chemistry.
Maggie’s peer Jax Perry, also 14 years old, is aspiring to a similar career path. She also wants to go into the medical field, but is seriously considering anesthesiology.
Jax said Friday’s conference made her “more determined to pursue a career in science.”
In the past, she was worried about the prospect of going to college and getting good enough grades to make her anesthesiology dream a reality.
“Hearing these people have done this, it’s like, ‘I can actually do this,’ ” she said.
While 14-year-old freshman Emma Charles is not as interested in math and science as Jax and Maggie are, she still found the conference helpful and interesting.
Emma, whose interests include history, journalism, music and dance, said the talks exposed her to new possibilities.
“I don’t know if it convinced me to go have an engineering major, but it helped expose me to more things than just what I had been looking at before,” she added.
Burke said he was pleased to see that Keene High School had the only group of freshmen attending the event.
The earlier he can get students thinking about their future careers, the better, Burke said.
And he said he was glad to have a group of already-motivated girls hear from people who have made it in math and science fields.
“Women haven’t had these types of careers open to them,” Burke said. “It’s an equity issue, it’s as simple as that. It’s not an issue that has been going on for 10, 20, 30 years; this has been going on forever.”
The girls said they hope their generation will lead the way for women around the world to get the jobs they want and to make as much money as their male counterparts.
“I think it really is important, because this is the generation that is starting to have more women being in charge,” Jax said.
“Men have really been doing to that stuff over the years, and it’s good to get the information out to women. It’s not impossible.”
“I think it’s definitely really good for us to hear about it now, to keep us interested. We have the potential to make a big difference in the world,” she said.