I can’t help but look back at my own education when it comes to discussing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
My parents were definitely not concerned or particularly interested in my education; they trusted that I would simply figure it out. I was smart and I had to find my own way. This method is not exactly what I would recommend as a parent myself, but in truth, I had no choice.
I was always good at math (and actually enjoyed science) so it's not so shocking that I gravitated toward both of those subjects in 7th grade, because they came so easily to me. At this point however, my education had not exactly been geared toward anything. I spent both 5th and 6th grade at an elementary school that was trying out a new type of education—based on pods—so there was little structure if any. Classroom "projects" were set up around the open space for self-starters; there was no formal curriculum. As I was always someone who could figure a way to get around anything, I soon became the tether ball and spit (remember that card game?) champion, basically ignoring all other learning activities.
By the time I got to 7th grade (in a typical junior high-school structured environment) I did not even know what a verb or noun was. I kid you not.
The school then separated me from the English class I was in and put me in a room of below average thinkers. It took me about a month to crawl my way out and get subsequently moved into the smartest English class, though I still suffered—and still do—for that profound lack of English training.
Happily, in science and math I excelled; I was noted as the top science student in 7th grade and was sent with all the 8th and 9th graders to spend a day at the National Science event in DC. It was a pretty big deal to a 13-year-old. Meanwhile, over in math class, I just flew through the work and loved it.
Yet nobody at home was giving me pats on the back for this, and by 9th grade I was lucky if I even made it to science class—though math was always a slam dunk and I always enjoyed it. (I remember taking a short course on computer programming and thinking, 'this is so cool!' . . . but there were just a few geeky guys who took over and I just let it go at that).
By the time I got to high school I was concentrating on juggling three jobs which I took to easily; I owned them, I made money and it gave me purpose.
The rest of my high school education is pretty much a blur. Perhaps if I had had a mentor or someone who took me under their wing, fostering my interest and skills in math and science, things would have turned out differently. At the time, I didn't see the importance of math and science; I was interested in business and business only. I only knew I had a head for it and it was a ticket to bigger things.
Happily, kids K-12 these days understand the importance of learning technology and I believe people should follow their passions. I had a passion for math, but nobody set me in that direction. In retrospect, I'm not so sure if I had a passion for anything except for making money, as opposed to expanding my brain and with that, my horizons. I read books like a fiend, but that was my own personal education—I never got much direction, though eventually I managed to figure it out.
Today we are seeing more and more organizations that provide mentorship to young women through companies like Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girls Develop It, Skillcrush and Webgrrls just to name a few—it's fantastic.
So, is STEM still a four-letter word for women? Absolutely not. S can also be for seeing their future, T can be for the importance of understanding technology at any level, E can be the importance of education—end of story—and M can be the importance of mastering the language of technology.
My advice? I still believe you have to have passion for it and if you do, stick with it. Because STEM levels the playing field and that is the key to a better future for women.