Stereotypes of STEM persist

Girls are underrepresented in STEM careers


From left: team members Natassja Bartle ’18, Gabriella Alessio ’19, and Sophia Asta ’18 (NDP Robotics/Special to the Seraphim).

By Samantha Torre, Staff Writer

Back in 2014, then-Notre Dame Preparatory senior Jennifer Delgado joined the robotics team in hopes of finding an experience that would prepare her for college, specifically for a major in engineering. However, what Jennifer experienced was different than what she expected.

“The boys in the club were condescending towards me because I did not have their same knowledge when it came to the robot,” she wrote in a 2014 essay for a scholarship through For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST). “I was a newcomer and the only girl …”

Fewer girls are involved in NDP robotics than boys (Samantha Torre/The Seraphim)

Despite feeling judged by other teammates, she decided to stick with the program. By the end of her time with robotics, she learned not only about building robots, but about the importance of never giving up.

“All that I learned made me grow in my endeavors as a future engineering student and as a person that will succeed in life because she refused to be pushed aside,” she wrote. “They were not expecting me to last. Nor were they expecting me to become such an asset and a joy to have on the team. I say this confidently because I know by the end of the year we were a community, there to help one another in robotics and in life.”

Today, women are still experiencing hardships for seeking to learn more about STEM (aka science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). While there has been improvement over the years in getting girls more involved in STEM, the field still has a long way to go.

Seniors Devon Lauffer and Sophia Asta working on a project (Jerry Asta/Special to the Seraphim

One main reason for an underrepresentation of women in STEM involves a stereotype saying that men are more adept at science and mathematics.

Shelley Correll, professor of sociology at Stanford University, acknowledged in a 2001 analysis of a study from 1988 that surveyed over 16,000 high school students that “most students believe math and science to be more useful and important for boys and better understood by them.”

In her study, she also found that boys stated they were better at math than girls, not because they truly were, but rather because they personally thought so. In addition, Correll found in a later 2004 study that when stereotypes of male superiority are present, girls will consider their own abilities to be lower. Because of these stereotypes, girls today may feel like they don’t belong in a STEM field, or they may automatically assume that STEM classes would be too challenging.

Junior Sarah Ferenczi and volunteer engineer Gerry Katafaisz work on a robot (Sophia Asta/Special To the Seraphim).

Junior Sarah Ferenczi, who joined NDP’s robotics team freshman year, at first felt nervous when joining the club.

“Honestly, I felt a little bit intimidated,” she said. “The first year I joined I didn’t really do much. If you didn’t really know that much about robots or anything you weren’t exactly the most useful to the team.”

Since she didn’t know much about robotics or code, Ferenczi said initially she didn’t feel welcomed on the team. Delgado also mentioned in her paper that when she first began working with the robotics team, other team members gave her tasks, like writing down measurements or
looking for tools instead of immediately teaching her about robotics.

According to the National Science Board, a 2016 study indicated that while women composed approximately half of the United States work force of college graduates, only 29 percent worked in science or engineering fields. To improve these numbers, many organizations have taken it upon themselves to increase the interest and confidence of girls in STEM fields.

For example, Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to teaching middle school and high school girls computer coding, provides after-school clubs that teach basic coding skills. Another organization called Engineer Girl provides information about the different sectors of engineering and what tasks they perform to encourage girls to learn more about the field.

Finally, the movie “Hidden Figures”, released in 2016, brought worldwide awareness to the fact that three African American women and NASA employees, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, played influential roles in sending astronaut John Glenn (first American who orbited Earth) into space. According to Box Office Mojo, a box office-reporting website, the movie made over $200 million in worldwide box office sales.

Throughout history there has been a cultural norm that states that only men should be in science or math careers. This stereotype is still impacting society today. However, that is not stopping girls from getting involved. Ferenczi, for example, encouraged girls to try participating in STEM, because there will always be people who are new to it.

“Honestly, I say go for it!” she exclaimed.