Women currently earn 41 percent of PhDs in STEM fields – that is, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – but make up only 28 percent of tenure-track faculty in those fields, according to a 2011 report published by the Department of . That same report says that women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs in the U.S., despite filling nearly 50 percent of jobs in the current job market, and that women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in engineering.
There are plenty of reasons why, including gender stereotyping and a smaller number of female role models in STEM fields. But one factor lies with how young girls are frequently discouraged from pursuing studies in STEM subjects.
Despite that, many girls are becoming increasingly interested in STEM subjects – thanks in part to the efforts of organizations like CWEALF that develop entire programs to encourage their studies – and it shows.
Young women across the U.S. are developing apps, inventing technological advances, and even working on diagnosing certain types of cancer. Here are a few admirable young women who have used science, technology, engineering, and math to make headlines.
More than 1,600 finalists from 70 countries around the world entered the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Arizona. The fair – the world’s largest international pre-college science competition – is geared toward students in grades 9-12. This year, out of the massive collection of entries, Eesha Khare, an 18-year-old student at Lynbrook High School in California, was selected as the competition’s winner.
Khare invented device that can charge a cell phone between 20 and 30 seconds. According to Huffington Post, the “supercapacitor acts as an energy storage device that holds a great amount energy in a small amount of space.” So not only does it have the ability to charge phones with incredible speed, but the device is small and could fit inside of cell phones and other electronics. This innovation could ultimately make it so that we’ll eventually rely on electronic outlets less often
For her work, Khare won $50,000, which she said she will put toward her education at Harvard.
“I will be setting the world on fire,” she said.
Sarasota, Florida, student Brittany Wenger recently developed a computer algorithm to diagnose leukemia. Pretty big deal, no?
The 18-year-old “built a custom, cloud-based ‘artificial neural network’ to find patterns in genetic expression profiles to diagnose patients with an aggressive form of cancer called mixed-lineage leukemia (MLL),” according to Mashable.
Her invention could change the face of cancer – or, at the very least, mixed-lineage leukemia, which typically has a poor prognosis, with a five-year survival rate of only 40 percent.
And this wasn’t even Wenger’s first foray into scientific discoveries: she previously used artificial-intelligence technology to determine whether a breast mass was malignant or benign. It was called Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer.
Wenger’s breast cancer research garnered her grand prize at the 2012 Google Science Fair, which annually collects more than 10,000 entries from young people ages 13-18. She was just 17.
The year before, in 2011, girls swept the competition, a feat Fast Company wrote not only covered, but celebrated. Shree Bose, a 17-year-old girl Texan won the grand prize for her research on the chemotherapy drug, cisplatin; Naomi Shah of Portland, OR, won the age 15-16 category with a study of the effects of air quality on lungs (particularly for people who have asthma); and Lauren Hodge of York, PA, won the age 13-14 category for research on whether marinades reduce the amount of cancer-causing compounds produced by the grilling of meat.
The efforts – and the impact – of these young women cannot be understated. Gone are the days when words like “doctor” and “scientist” and “engineer” are synonymous with male; instead, young women like Eesha, Britney, Shree, Naomi, and Lauren are rising. These girls, like many others when given the right tools and encouragement, are determined, innovative, and smart. So let’s keep pushing young women to think big. When they’re encouraged to study science, technology, engineering, and math, there’s really no telling what they’ll do. They might just change the world.
Crystal Maldonado is a writer by day, and super-feminist by night. Find her on Twitter @crysmaldonado, or check out her new online magazine, Positively-Smitten.com.