From the days of WWII, when women flocked to ship yards and helped to build the warships that helped the U.S. to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy, up to the present day, women have proven successful in areas such as welding and pipefitting. They are also capable of working in the shipbuilding and HVAC fields. Yet their numbers are underrepresented in many areas of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
A History of Women Entering the Workforce
Prior to WWII, women primarily stayed at home, taking care of their homes and families. As the U.S. responded to the Pearl Harbor attacks, it became clear that, because of all the men signing up to fight, women would have to pick up the slack in the factories and shipyards. These women, made famous by the “Rosie the Riveter” poster, stepped up to their new roles and excelled, helping to build the ships needed overseas.
In the 21st century, women are beginning to enter science, technology, engineering and math courses more frequently, but their numbers are still small. While young girls are required to take part in math courses, they may begin to focus on other courses by the time they reach middle school. If they could be encouraged to continue learning STEM courses, they may decide to take them in high school and even college. This could potentially open up several career paths for young women interested in vocational training.
Attracting Girls to STEM Courses (Or, A Few Unexpected Names in STEM Fields)
While their numbers are still low, young women have been taking STEM courses and majoring in fields such as engineering, math, technology and science. One way to encourage girls to pursue these areas of interest is to direct them to female STEM trailblazers, such as:
- Danica McKellar, who appeared on the early 1990s TV hit, The Wonder Years. McKellar earned a mathematics degree from UCLA and has since written the book “Math Doesn’t Suck,” with the focus of encouraging girls to take an interest in math and science.
- Mayim Bialik, also an actress, not only plays a scientist on TV: She is one. Bialik earned a Ph.D in neuroscience in 2007.
- Sally Ride, astronaut and physicist. She received a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford, and was the first American woman in space on the 1983 Challenger mission.
- Barbara A. Res, a professional engineer for a major construction company.
How can these four women help attract young female students to STEM fields? First, they can show girls that their math and science skills are equal to those of male students. Additionally, they encourage girls to continue setting high goals and searching for unique opportunities, such as the EarthKAM mission for kids. Finally, they show how a career in a STEM field means that they can help people. For instance, a trained HVAC technician makes an indoor environment cooler or warmer, thus making it healthier for the people inside that building.
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How a STEM Education Can Aid Women Interested in Working in a Vocational Field
Vocational jobs, such as pipefitting, HVAC, welding and shipbuilding, require strong math and engineering skills. They also require students to learn to read and interpret blueprints. Because each of these fields require strong attention to small details, such as precise measurements, students in lower education should take courses that teach them how to spot, assess and understand these factors. An education based on STEM and leadership courses can help interest young women in non-traditional vocational fields like pipefitting, welding and mechanical engineering.