University professor teams up with Microsoft to study why girls aren’t pursuing STEM careers

Southern Utah University professor Dr. Shalini Kesar (pictured right) joined forces with Microsoft to conduct a study on the lack of girls and women pursuing STEM careers- St. George News

CEDAR CITY – Science, technology, engineering and math are some of the most crucial fields in America, though according to the National Center for Education Statistics only a fraction of those who pursue STEM careers are female.

St. George News featured Dr. Shalini Kesar, associate professor of information systems at Southern Utah University and advocate for women in technology, who teamed up with Microsoft to address the disparity and how to best tackle the problem.

The goal of the study was “to inform our work in this area and to share learnings with schools, government leaders, nonprofits, employers and others,” Microsoft announced. “What we learned is that conditions and context can make a significant difference to girls, young women and their interest in STEM. And the solution doesn’t necessarily require a curricula overhaul.”

The study used focus groups of 44 middle school and high school girls who shared their views, experiences and feelings toward STEM. This, they say, laid the groundwork for a quantitative survey of 6,009 girls and young women from ages 10-30 that examined “attitudes toward STEM, school and the workforce pipeline.”

“The stubborn gender disparity in STEM fields has sparked important debates on the underlying reasons,” Kesar said. “Some attribute the gender disparity to social and infrastructural factors, lack of mentors and role models, and lack of awareness about what these fields offer in terms of educational and career opportunities. Others point to studies that indicate traditional mindsets of computing as ‘boring’ and ‘only for boys’ as a major reason why girls and young women do not consider a degree or career in this field.”

The study showed that we might be able to improve young female attitudes towards STEM by showing how it can be used outside of the classroom and how it can improve the world around them.

According to St. George News, the main takeaways from the research are:

  • Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles. They need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models and career awareness and planning.
  • Girls don’t initially see the potential for careers in STEM to be creative or have a positive impact on the world, but even a little exposure to real-world applications of STEM knowledge dramatically changes their outlook.
  • Girls who participate in STEM clubs and activities outside of school are more likely to say they will pursue STEM subjects later in their education. The kinds of experiments and experiences girls are exposed to in these activities can provide insights for how to enhance STEM instruction in the classroom.
  • Encouragement from teachers and parents makes a big difference in girls’ interest in STEM – especially when it comes from both teachers and parents.
  • Educators can foster a “growth mindset” among their female students by tapping into their willingness to work hard for results.

You can read the full story by St. George News here.