Bridging the Gap in STEM Studies: Females vs. Males. Author: Marcia Page

There is a science to helping students become successful in the classroom. Not to be cliché, but some research suggests there is evidence that there are differences between how to help girls learn and achieve versus how to help boys.

For years, women lagged behind men in educational attainment. In 1960, more boys went to college and census data suggested that twice as many males as females received bachelor’s degrees in 1960. Two decades later, by the mid-1980s, female students’ educational attainments had not only caught up but started to outpace the accomplishments of male students. Building on those success trends started almost 40 years ago, today female students are in fact performing far better than boys and according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 57% of college students are female and women earn about one-third more bachelor’s degrees than men. After decades of concern about females being shortchanged, now there is some evidence to suggest exactly the opposite; perhaps it is really young men who are in peril.

Digging a little deeper to understand what is going on in STEM studies specifically, we will find that even though females are capable, their abilities in math and science classes do not predict whether they will go into related careers. Lisa Wade, associate professor and chairwoman of the sociology department at Occidental College in Los Angeles who frequently writes on this topic says, “many high-performing girls choose not to (go into STEM careers), and many lower-performing boys do. This is partly because women are pushed out of such careers because they are so strongly associated with men and masculinity or because they encounter hostility, but it’s also because they are pulled out: women strongly out-perform boys in skills related to other types of careers, so sometimes they choose those instead.”

While all the various theories and the current facts are interesting, the real question is what exactly causes the gender gap in STEM studies and educational achievement? The sad truth is that while data exposes an indisputable gender gap, the reasons that contributed to these results are unclear. The roots of the problem are complex and nuanced and it seems many factors contribute to the discrepancies between males and females.

So, what can be done to help students stay the path to pursue a degree in a STEM field? For both male and female students, create opportunities for your student to meet some same gender role models in their areas of interest. No matter the topic, there are likely professional organizations in the specific STEM field that may have outreach efforts designed to stimulate interest in the field, and some may even offer internship opportunities to students (as an example, to find STEM career related associations or professional organizations, go to for engineering and for computer science) . Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that high school’s where academic achievements are celebrated and rewarded are good for both male and female students. Frequently these schools are in affluent districts or in urban areas where the community has rallied behind the school’s educational goals.

A primary take away from this discussion is to seek support both inside and outside the school environment encouraging and rewarding academic excellence and providing role models and hands on experience to support STEM career interest for both females and males.

Invest Now or Pay Later…..Your Choice! Author: Marcia Page

While recently strolling through a shopping mall, I stumbled up on a group of teenagers. As the profanity became less and less bearable, I became more and more disturbed. My initial inclination was to criticize these young men for the highly inappropriate language and seemingly gang affiliated attire. This would have been immediately followed by giving them the obligatory speech about respecting elders. Then, I thought about a quote I recently heard from Georgetown Professor, Michael Eric Dyson:

“Maybe if we lifted their dreams, their pants would follow”

It is easy for us to ridicule young people for the behaviors that they exhibit. But this particular day really made me begin to critically assess the state of adolescence in today’s society. Most parents and guardians do the best they can to rear their children. Teachers, often with limited resources, provide students with key foundational concepts they will need for academic success. Counselors and organizations such as EIF work diligently to ensure that students have the requisite knowledge regarding their postsecondary options.

But there is still a missing link: An adequate supply of positive mentors.

Most of us can think of someone in our life who, in some way, inspired us when we were younger. Maybe it was a coach or teacher who helped us hone our talents, a family friend who took an interest in our education or a boss who taught us the ropes of our chosen career. These people encouraged us to pursue our life goals and were people we could look up to as role models.

Mentors play an important role in helping young people succeed academically, socially and professionally. These more experienced men and women can pass on knowledge, advice and offer support to their younger counterparts.

Mentors have the ability to especially make an impact on potential first-generation college students or those entering a career path foreign to their families. These students can’t necessarily rely on the guidance of parents or siblings in preparing for their postsecondary careers. In these situations, mentors serve as sources of knowledge regarding college applications, financial aid, course work, career development, and what to expect after high school.

But beyond providing useful information, these adults can also act as sources of social support and encouragement. A student who has someone taking an interest in their life goals and who is invested in their success is more likely to succeed after high school. A young person with a mentor always knows that there’s someone rooting for them, and that they have someone they can turn to for help when needed. Simply put, having a mentor can often mean the difference between a student dedicating themselves to their education or giving up entirely.

However, the students themselves are not the only ones who benefit from mentor-mentee relationships. Those who mentor indirectly impact their communities by helping to build a workforce of knowledgeable and skilled professionals. And the hope is that these young students will one day return to their communities with the ability to become mentors to the next generation, creating a cycle of success.

But in a sense, none of these are the most important reason:

Simply put, those of us that have been successful in our postsecondary lives have a moral obligation to mentor. This obligation is born from the idea that in an effort to prepare the next generation for success, it is not the option for a few of us, but the responsibility of all of us. If we all embraced young people, our future, with this attitude, we can collectively create a group of young professionals poised to lead our world into a new path of innovation and leadership. And who knows? Maybe then, your stroll through the mall won’t be as discouraging and distasteful as mine.