If you have about 50 minutes of time I strongly encourage you to watch the video below. It’s an all-women panel made up of NASA employees discussing how to get more girls and women into the STEM field. But what is STEM you might ask. Let me clear that up for you real quick.
STEM is an acronym of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In Germany, this is referenced as MINT. While the number of women in this field has increased over the last couple of decades it is still not made up equally of men and women, men are domineering these fields and that is something education policies are trying to address. As an Industrial Engineer, I fall into this STEM field and it’s true. Of the 200-something first year students, less than 50 were female. My AP math and physics classes in high school were made up of similar ratios which is something I don’t get. Yes, every person has a different set of skills but women are not categorically worse at math or science just because they are women. Instead we are, from an early age on, pressed into these categories.
Girls play with dolls and boys get to fix stuff with their fathers. These are the things that influence us throughout our lives. It doesn’t have to be like this though. I was very lucky, my uncle, Mr. PhD in Physics, was giving me all these great gifts for Christmas and my birthdays each year. I got a microscope, electronic sets, Lego Technics and much more of these things that are not typically girls toys. And I am grateful for it. As a kid I never knew this to be something special but as an adult I can appreciate it even more so. Having grown up with a father who didn’t change the tires on his car himself or even change a lightbulb in the house and a mother who was not that handy herself, I learned a lot of things at an early age because there was nobody there to do it for me. Even more so after my father left when I was a teenager. Either I did the things or they didn’t get done so I stepped up and rightfully so.
Watching the panel above reminded me of how far we’ve already gotten but also of the long road that is still ahead of us. But just watching these women talk about their work has me all excited because they are so excited about their work to begin with. I am a grown woman but listening to them I’m like a little kid standing in front of a fire truck admiring the view. And I can’t even imagine what this does to girls in primary or middle school, seeing what anyone can accomplish if you set your mind to it. Seeing that as a girl, you cannot only become a nurse or house wife but you can become an astronaut as well! You can work with the brightest minds of the country, discover new galaxies, see the world from space and many more things.
And a note to those of you who think that NASA is not important, I beg to differ. The research they are doing is not only so they can send people into space, every day lives are improved by it. If you don’t believe me, follow this link. At the moment NASA is researching the bone and muscle loss of astronauts which will eventually help older people with less dense bones and the treatment of their conditions. These are just some examples. Many people may know the joke about the competition between the US and Soviet space programs. Faced with the challenge of writing in zero gravity, NASA spent millions on inventing a pen that works in zero gravity while the Soviets used a pencil. But as one of the panelists said “fail and fail often”, it’s a good thing. It means we are aiming high enough and there is no shame in failing as long as we get back up. Also, ask as many questions as possible. Ask people for help to try and get where you want to get to in life.
One of my favourite quotes from this panel is by Edward Teller upon being asked wether women should be allowed to become astronauts. He said: “Yes, in fact, only women should go to space. More brains per pound.” There you have it ladies. Don’t take no for an aster. Be bold and don’t accept being told you can’t do something just because you’re female. And most importantly, teach your kids these values, push your daughters not only to play with dolls but get them a tool set and vice versa for the boys.
For further information visit Women@NASA