STEM for Girls at RDS

Image courtesy of Google

By Eoin Meegan

An important event will take place in the RDS on February 11th and 12th next when the I Wish foundation presents a two-day workshop promoting more gender equality in STEM.

What exactly is STEM and why is this important? STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, subjects that traditionally were seen to be the preserve of boys, an attitude that thankfully is changing.

While in the past these four were considered separate or discrete subjects, they are now appreciated more for their relational value, and, as such, increasingly taught as an interdisciplinary unit.

What differentiates STEM from other academic disciplines is that the emphasis is on their impact on everyday things. For example, you might think of mathematics as something really abstract, but if you’ve operated a laundrette today then you’ve used a combination of STEM.   

The upcoming event promises to be a very exciting one, offering workshops and interactive exhibitions. There will be representatives there from Google, Twitter, Enable Ireland, Pepsico, AIB, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

In addition, there will be talks by well-known figures from the world of business and entertainment, such as comedian Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, entrepreneur Ciara Judge, and spoken word artist Natalya O’Flaherty. All these talented people will be doing their bit to help inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM. MCs for the event will be Sinead Kennedy, Brendan Courtney and Sonya Lennon.

A lot of people may not realise the vast range of subjects covered by STEM, which includes chemical engineering, biochemistry, aerospace engineering, computer science and robotics. Ironically, as it turns out, there is now a shortage of trained people to fill many of these and other roles in the STEM field. And yet, we’re probably still encouraging only half of the population to actively pursue them. 

Because traditionally fewer girls than boys pursued STEM type subjects, the idea persisted that certain careers were almost prescribed for a particular gender. Girls, therefore, might have felt more supported doing nursing or teaching, than say, becoming an astronaut, whatever their personal inner proclivity.

Also, we tend to ask boys questions about spatial awareness, or how fast cars go, whereas girls are more likely to be asked how they feel about things. This can, wholly unintentionally, reinforce gender bias. Psychologists, therefore, suggest that children be exposed from a young age to women doing what might be traditionally called men’s jobs.

As with so many things, how we perceive ourselves and what we believe to be true of ourselves, and of the group to which we identify, can become a self-realised fact. This is nowhere more true than in the area of education. So by holding this limited perception of what was open to them, many girls in the past simply did not consider certain careers. Instead they chose subjects they were encouraged to think they had a better aptitude for. The I Wish conference in the RDS will act as a corrective to this cultural stereotyping. So expect some paradigm shifts.

And lastly, the subject of STEM doesn’t only impact on gender, but it also has a huge bearing on those other great issues of our time, global warming and environmental change.

Future workers in STEM will be making important decisions that will affect everyone. From the food we will eat, to the way we will heat our homes, to the kind of car we drive, STEM will be at the cutting edge of everything.

This means in the near future there will be a growing need for STEM teachers to educate young people to cope with this new demand. So this is another area many of today’s school leavers could think about.

The I Wish foundation’s goal is to inspire, encourage and motivate young female students to pursue careers in STEM. The two-day event in the RDS is aimed primarily at girls in transition year, but all are welcome.

Changes in attitude around STEM aims to break traditional gender barriers and encourage more women and minorities to get involved in STEM-related careers. So do try to get along to this worthwhile event in the RDS in a few days time. Not only will it be paradigm-breaking, and maybe world-changing, it promises to be a great two-days out too. For more info