Five Ways to Support Your Daughter’s Interest in STEM, as told by a High Schooler
Girls Day @ The Tech returns Saturday, March 17 and Saturday, May 12. These special events offer a day of hands-on activities to encourage girls age 7–14 and their families to explore STEM learning for fun and their futures! We also team up with companies and some of the best STEM educational partners in Silicon Valley to celebrate the achievements of women in STEM fields. Learn more here.
Impactful experiences that include mentors like Girls Day @ The Tech are just one way to support your daughter’s interest in science and tech. Mallika Yeleswarapu is a current student at Santa Clara University, who recently graduated from downtown San Jose’s Notre Dame High School. She wrote this guide for parents to help their daughters engage in STEM subjects.
M y first forays into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and programming started as early as 5th grade, but sometimes it was pretty tough to stay in it when I felt like I didn’t fit in. I overcame my fear and learned to love STEM, and my parents played a big role in that.
Here are some ways you can help your daughter stay engaged in STEM:
- Let her make mistakes
Sometimes our biggest lessons come from failure. Solve problems together, but if your daughter isn’t getting a concept, don’t jump in to help right away. Give her a bit of time to figure it out. Do, however, make sure she knows you’re a resource, so she can come to you if she decides she needs help. Throughout middle school, I stayed interested in programming because my parents gave me room to grow, but I knew I could turn to them if there was a bug I just couldn’t fix.
2. Encourage her to seek out mentors.
Being able to get advice and support from mentors keeps girls interested in a subject, but fewer than 50% of high school girls know a woman in a STEM career! There’s something really exciting about seeing someone who you can identify with in a field that’s captivated your interest.
Introduce your daughter to a colleague, or encourage her to reach out to people who inspire her. My dad brought me to his work and made it a point to introduce me to his female colleagues so I saw that women can also have amazing careers in STEM. My mom also encouraged me to reach out to a college professor whose writings I’d admired, and I learned networking isn’t as scary as it seems, something my mom had already assured me.
3. Stay away from stereotypes
My parents both have engineering backgrounds, so I grew up feeling like a career in STEM was something I could do. However as I got older, messages from friends and the media made a job in STEM fields feel unattainable to me. TV shows, movies and even the all-boys robotics team at my middle school all sent the message that STEM wasn’t for girls.
While you can’t shield her from all media, you can be careful not to say things like, “Maybe your brother should use the hammer.” Try coding or science projects together with your daughter so you are actively working against the social norms that can keep girls out of STEM.
4. Show her the wide world of STEM
Don’t assume there’s one way to enjoy STEM. As a middle schooler, I shut myself off from coding because I was terrified to sit in a cubicle and stare at grey walls all day. Upon hearing this, my parents took me to a museum exhibit in which local artists blended technology and art. Visiting the museum gave me a whole new perspective on STEM and opened up so many opportunities for me!
Remember that your daughter’s interests in robotics and history or art don’t negate each other. Skills like computer programming and web design are becoming necessary for any profession.
And STEM involvement doesn’t necessarily mean a career in engineering or medicine.
Rather than just focusing on the hard science or pure math, expose your child to how STEM is applied in the real world. It isn’t hard to find people all around the world doing cool things with STEM in different ways.
5. Build her STEM-esteem
My biggest fear growing up was not knowing enough. I didn’t raise my hand in class, scared to be called a “fraud.” This fear is called the Impostor Syndrome and it affects so many people, especially girls. It’s not fun and it’s not rational, but helping your daughter recognize the fear and validating her feelings is the first step to building her “STEM-esteem.” Encourage your daughter to find a place where her skills and STEM-esteem can grow.
While I regret turning down that opportunity, I was more motivated to develop my skills so I’d never have that fear again. I found my community in the Girls Who Code club at my school. The club is a place where I feel comfortable asking questions and confident in my ability in STEM.
If these strategies seem easy, it’s because they are! Best of all, they will help your daughter get into programming and stick to it.