Fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are still predominantly comprised by men. According to the National Science Foundation, women make up 43 percent of the U.S workforce and only 35 percent of STEM students in higher education globally are women. These are staggering figures that demonstrate the gender disparity in STEM careers, but thankfully these numbers are starting to change. If we go back to just a decade ago, these numbers would have been much lower, but today we are definitely seeing more and more women motivated to pursue STEM-related careers.
There are several reasons as to why women tend to migrate towards professions in the arts and social sciences rather than technology, but the most common one goes back to lack of support and stimulation in school. Studies show that there is little to no difference between girls’ and boys’ interest in science before the age of 15, but as kids grow up, their curiosity for STEM subjects decreases significantly. There is usually a lack of encouragement from parents and teachers, which causes girls to lose confidence in themselves at an early age. Constant dissuasion and few role models are the perfect ingredients to dishearten girls from becoming the next mathematician, engineer, or computer scientist in their family.
Here at Texas Tech University- Costa Rica, we value and encourage our students to chase after careers where they can feel empowered and confident about their abilities. Virginia Portilla for example, is a sophomore at Texas Tech-CR majoring in Mathematics. Ever since she was a little girl, Virginia has enjoyed dancing, painting, and reading, but math has also formed a huge part of her life. Since third grade, Virginia has participated in the Math Olympics at her school and now, she is on the President’s List at Texas Tech due to her academic excellence. Virginia has always counted on the support from her parents, but her journey as a woman in STEM has not always been easy.
“I’m the only woman in my calculus class,” Portilla said. “This has created additional stress for me because I’m also older than most students. I sometimes feel like I have to do better than most in order to be accepted.”
Even though it might be a bit stressful, Virginia feels hopeful and confident about her decision. Her passion for math has motivated her to keep on going and to never give up on what she believes in. Virginia is not alone however. There are many students who think the same way and are equally motivated to pursue a career in a subject they love. Verónica Siblesz for example, is majoring in Computer Science and is happy to be studying something that she feels passionate about.
“I believe it is crucial for more women to join in order to crush the gender gap that is still so wide. Many girls are scared because they don’t think they’ll fit into the STEM stereotype, but it’s important to know that everyone is capable of succeeding in these areas,” Siblesz said. “STEM fields provide a lot of opportunities and women have to be a part of them to pave the way for our future.”
Virginia and Verónica are building their path toward success, so what’s stopping you from doing the same? Help us break the glass ceiling and become the engineer and computer scientist you have always dreamed of. Don’t be afraid to take chances, to be different. Become a Red Raider and become part of the next generation of women in STEM.