How to Help Girls Excel in STEM

Posted September 18, 2020 by Aisha Abdullah, PhD

Despite receiving almost half of all STEM degrees in the U.S., women make up less than 30% of the STEM workforce and are particularly underrepresented in some of the fastest-growing and highest-earning fields like computer science and engineering.

Parents may wonder what is the best way to get their daughters interested in STEM. While there is no one size fits all answer, research has shown that early exposure, mentors, and opportunities to work with other motivated students are all good predictors of later STEM success. Fortunately, academic competitions offer these drivers (and more!) all in one place. Here are 4 ways to help your daughter get involved and excel in STEM competitions.

Give her positive STEM roles models and mentors

Most women in STEM remember the feeling of being the only girl in Cal II or robotics club. They know the value of having female role models and are only too happy to support and motivate the next generation of girls in STEM. If you live near a college, research center, or any STEM-rich institution, your daughter can reach out to female STEM students and professionals to set up a chat. Even if you are unable to find a mentor, you’ll likely find someone who can offer words of advice and inspiration, or simply a good example of what it looks like to be a woman in STEM. If you struggle to find local mentors, initiatives like the National Girls Collaborative Project can help girls find virtual STEM mentors.

Introduce her to girl-focused STEM competitions

One way to get girls excited about STEM is to introduce them to female-centric STEM competitions and organizations. These offer the opportunity for girls to find STEM mentors and connect with other girls with similar STEM interests. Forming these networks early on will be especially helpful later when they’re applying for college, internships, and jobs.

Here are some STEM competitions for girls that are worth checking out:

Girls may also enjoy getting involved with organizations like Girlstart, Black Girls CODE, and Techbridge Girls that empower girls in STEM and offer them opportunities to challenge themselves and grow their skills. 

Let her lead the way 

Don’t assume that girls will need a connection to traditionally feminine topics in order to be interested in STEM. Allow them to explore STEM topics based on what interests them. Is your daughter into art or design? Check out competitions like Destination Imagination or Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. Is she passionate about the environment? Consider signing up for the Future City Competition or Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Student Contest. Like math or data science? Try the Modeling the Future Challenge.

Spend some time exploring the ICS database, which lets you search competitions by topic and grade, to find STEM competitions that may pique your daughter’s interest. With a premium account, students can also track their progress and get discounts on ICS programs.

Make STEM relevant…and fun

Participation in STEM competitions can be particularly rewarding for students who do not see themselves as naturally STEM-inclined. By incorporating communication, problem-solving, creativity, teamwork, and leadership, competitions push students to use skills that aren’t traditionally associated with STEM and allow them to gain experience that will be valuable in whatever career path they choose. 

STEM competitions also illuminate something that isn’t always captured in the classroom: STEM is fun! Whether through the excitement of discovery, the thrill of creating with a team, or the triumph of troubleshooting a difficult problem, in the competition space, STEM comes to life.

Venturing into the competition space can be intimidating but the skills, connections, and experiences students gain from them are invaluable. Astronaut Sally Ride once said, “All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.” Encourage your daughter to take on the adventure of STEM competitions and you might be surprised by just how much she can achieve.