Time to up our STEM game  

Mass. economy depends on expanding opportunity for all

ACCORDING TO ALYSSA, a Burlington High School senior studying computer science in a classroom full of boys and only four other girls, “If we were able to show middle school girls that science is fun in the high school, then they would more likely choose STEM courses.”

As parents and educators, we must ask ourselves: Why do girls more often than boys shy away from studying science, technology, engineering and math? How can we change that pattern? If we do not take steps to address this problem, it will have lasting consequences on young women’s career options and the Massachusetts economy.

The need for women in STEM is ever growing, and it continues to be one of the Commonwealth’s strongest growing economic sectors. Without a robust and thriving trade workforce, Massachusetts will suffer.

Today, more than 95,000 exceptionally skilled, talented people are employed in the Commonwealth’s life sciences industry. That number is growing faster than in any other state, and STEM jobs are expected to account for 25 percent of the total employment growth in Massachusetts over the next 10 years, but we have more to do if we want to close the opportunity gap and ensure that girls have a seat at the table in STEM and beyond.

While better than the national statistic of 3 men to every 1 woman, there are still 2.5 men to every woman occupying STEM jobs in Massachusetts, and there are striking disparities within employment sectors. It is incumbent upon us to encourage more women and girls to enter the Commonwealth’s growing economic fields and offer opportunities for these promising careers.

In order to develop a skilled workforce that is capable of taking on and succeeding in the sectors of our economy that are bursting at the seams with jobs and innovation, we must close the STEM opportunity gap for women and girls.

Closing this gap begins in the classrooms – we need to teach students how to secure these jobs and retain them by offering every student the same resources and skills-training, regardless of where they attend school. To keep up with our economy’s demand for workers and continued, rapid innovation, we need to innovate the way we educate.

To combat this inequality, our administration has committed over $65 million in Skills Capital Grant funding to schools, colleges, and educational institutions across the Commonwealth to equip students with the resources and technology necessary to succeed.

We are increasing access to high-quality career education through strengthening vocational schools and creating opportunities for students to explore STEM and develop their skills. Now, in Massachusetts classrooms, high school students can substitute a computer science course for a lab science or mathematics course to satisfy MassCore requirements, and the state adopted new digital literacy and computer science curriculum standards.

Additionally, our administration has implemented STEM Starter Academies at all 15 of the state’s community colleges, as well as launched both the Innovation Pathways program and the STEM@Work program to partner students with local businesses to offer students coursework and experience in STEM industries.

By innovating STEM education through classrooms, curriculum and connections, our administration is investing in our students, providing STEM industries with the workforce they need to grow and allowing the next generation to succeed.

To encourage more young women to consider STEM studies, our administration is currently hosting the second annual Massachusetts STEM Week. Schools, colleges, museums, libraries, businesses and other venues are hosting nearly 1,000 events across the Commonwealth to showcase science, technology, engineering and math. Students from preschool to college will take part in hands-on lessons and demonstrations aimed at giving them a glimpse of how STEM intersects almost every profession.

This year’s theme is “See Yourself in STEM.” Women, people of color, first-generation college students, low-income students, English-language learners and people with disabilities are all underrepresented in STEM industries.

Meet the Author

Karyn Polito

Lieutenant Governor, Commonwealth of Mass.
Our hope is that a lesson or activity offered during this week will inspire more young girls to take STEM classes, so when they get to high school, perhaps there will not be just four other girls in their class.

Karyn Polito is the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.