By Jackie James

Want to be on the cutting edge of cancer research? Maybe you enjoy writing programs for computer games or long to create city infrastructure, like highways, buildings and bridges. Maybe numbers are your favorite, and you enjoy solving problems. If any of this sounds like you, a STEM career may be an excellent choice for your future!

Once upon a time in American society, social norms dictated that women were the weaker sex, and we were expected to be stellar homemakers and cater to our men. Our roles were defined by “sweet” or “sexy”, but today, women know there’s nothing sweeter or sexier than a woman with a badass brain who sets out to make a difference. We owe these advancements to the courageous women who branched out and began working in male-dominated fields.  Women like Sally Ride, the first American women and also the youngest person to venture into space; Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, the NASA mathematicians immortalized in the movie “Hidden Figures”; and Rosalyn Sussman Yalow and Gertrude Eilion, Nobel Prize winners and pioneers in medical research, the former developing a method to measure hormone levels in-vitro while the latter helped discover a drug to combat AIDS.  These women broke barriers so that the girls of today—the ones interested in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM—would have an easier path to success.

We owe a great deal to women who, against enormous odds and without the support of STEM education and financing, found a way to make a difference. If you have ever heard of the elements radium and polonium, you may know they were discovered by scientist Marie Curie, the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes. Did you ever watch the TV show “The Wonder Years”? Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper, is also a mathematician and has written six books about math, including “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.” Know who invented bulletproof vests and the windshield wiper? Women engineers, of course; Stephanie Kwolek and Mary Anderson, respectively. What about women of color? Kimberly Bryant founded BlackGirlsCode, a six-week program that teaches coding and robotics to young women of color. These women may not be household names, but their work leaves a legacy for millions of girls interested in STEM courses.

Today, STEM programs focus on educating young women in these core subjects. There are schools that cater specifically to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math, and the to the women who love them. Remember hearing “girls aren’t good at math” or “women weren’t meant to be scientists?” These archaic notions are long gone, and women nowadays can do anything we set our minds to, especially if we have the aptitude and desire. Even if you don’t attend a STEM school, there are programs in Arizona designed to enrich your knowledge of these subjects, like the Girls in STEM group offered at the Arizona Science Center and the hands-on, project based program at the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence. Many Arizona colleges offer scholarships and grants for women seeking education in these core subjects.

In the workforce, women are still hugely underrepresented in the STEM fields, meaning there are great opportunities available for girls who enjoy these subjects and want to pursue them in college and as a career. Many of these jobs are high paying, challenging positions that need a woman’s perspective.If you are a problem solver and enjoy the merits of critical thinking, STEM courses could be the right career path for you!