How fathers can influence their daughters to take up STEM careers and be successful

  

Date Posted: 10/26/2018 2:25:40 PM

Posted By: SilviaMbugua  Membership Level: Silver  Total Points: 327


Many women in male dominated fields like Engineering and Computer Science will tell you their first-hand experience on how intimidating it was to be the only woman or amongst the few women in their classes when they entered university. It can be a daunting experience and one wishes there were more female faces when the lecturer is looking for who to pick to answer a question because the women definitely stand out. The number of women may have increased in the medical sciences but still remains low in engineering and technology fields(hence the famous ‘Juja Boys’ since JKUAT concentrates on these fields).

Despite popular pseudo-scientific claims that women aren’t capable of thriving in STEM careers, real research has shown that they are just as capable as men. Ability is not the problem, but statistics narrate a different story when it comes to interest in STEM subjects. Generally, in our culture when we think of an engineer, the mental image that comes first to mind is a blandly dressed man with geek spectacles to complete his entire geek persona. We would rarely think of a woman first and this is one troubling mentality.

The way we bring up our children impacts heavily on who they will become in the future and it is time parents, especially fathers, take up the challenge and cultivate your daughter’s interests and success in STEM fields. If you note that from a very early age that your daughter is doing well in mathematics and the sciences, nudging her towards a STEM career would be ideal. Here are some tips on how to accomplish this task:

1. Expose her to computers from a young age, not so she can watch funny YouTube videos and browse the internet but so you could teach her a bit of simple programming. There are thousands

of learning materials online from Google to YouTube that are good for beginners and easy for you to learn.
- You could start with the basics of languages like HTML and add some fun by adding CSS. Help her write out the mark up and style the web pages by adding some CSS properties like colour. You could also do python and C, help her make a simple program to add two numbers (tell her she’s made a calculator) .Though, that is suitable for a parent who is already in the field because there are some software that you’ll need to download and install to compile and interpret the code unlike CSS and HTML where there is already a notepad and the browsers to do that. It however doesn’t hurt to explore these software as the tutorials give detailed explanations on how to install and use them.
-I my opinion programming languages are easier to learn unlike verbal languages like French, Chinese and German. Once a person masters the basics such as syntax, conditions, control structures and data types they become flexible and can easily learn other programming languages.
-Even without getting so deep into coding, you could do some simple tricks with your computer to get her excited about using them. Example, on your start menu search ‘cmd’ and click on command prompt. The command prompt application opens, then type ‘color a’ and press enter (do not include the quotes). You will notice the text in the command prompt has changed to green, next, type 'tree' and press enter, what happens next makes one feel like a pro hacker. Hopefully your machine does not have many file directories as the process could take a while. I showed this simple mindless trick to a friend of mine and they were convinced I was doing what hackers do on the science fiction TV shows. This fancy trick might be the start of your daughter’s cyber security career.
-As the years progress and she has developed interests in coding, help her make simple games to keep things fun.

2. Build things with her when she is still very young. If you are able to purchase LEGOs, that will be fine but for the ordinary Kenyans out here that might be a tall order. You can help her build for example a bird cage, go over the designs with her (of course you will do the nails so she doesn’t injure herself). Help her understand why this structure is important when done this way and not that way. Help her see how all those centimeters and perimeters she’s learning in school are needed in the construction of such simple things
-You can also select twigs and use bladders to build a small house, chair or table. For those blessed parents there are special engineering toy kits for girls that you can purchase and help your daughter build houses, model trains and cars with.
-A problem might stem however if your daughter is wondering what this building business is about yet the neighbour’s girl is playing with dolls. A female engineer trying to encourage girls into stem using her engineering kits discovered a problem, the girls would play with them but not for too long, they got bored and moved on to other toys. She solved this problem by introducing a verbal kit to work with the engineering kit and the girls loved it. What does this mean? As a parent you can incorporate various techniques to make these activities more interesting by including verbal narrations like, “We shall build a house for your dolls also need a house to protect them from the rain just like we do!” Remember that women are verbal learners so engage that while working on these projects.
-You may also wonder what this building business is about. It’s about neural plasticity, the ability of the brain to change structurally after learning or acquiring a given behaviour or skill. At that young age, you will have improved your daughter’s spatial intelligence by a significant amount.
- Spatial intelligence is the ability to rotate and manipulate 3D images and shapes in the mind. It is very critical for courses in engineering and will help your daughter learn geometry much more easily. There is a unit in engineering called ‘Engineering drawing’ which heavily relies on spatial intelligence. People without well-developed spatial centers of the brain might struggle with such units and it’s better to develop them from a very young age.

3. Solve simple logic puzzles and puzzles online with her and even make them yourself if possible using pen and paper or cut up some material. After completion of the puzzles, give small rewards to encourage her to this activity if interest declines. As she grows older you can advance to Sudoku and complex online puzzle apps available on playstore. These help engage the logic circuits in the brain and develop critical thinking needed in STEM fields.

4. Watch Science fiction movies and shows with her. It is good to start from an early age. If she is young, there are plenty of family friendly shows such as Big Hero Six, Star Trek, Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Black Panther. For an older above 16 child, shows like Black Mirror, Altered Carbon, Dark Matter, Antman and Wasp, Hidden Figures, Westworld, Mr Robot and Pure genius are good.
-After watching them, develop a culture of discussing and analysing them with your daughter to delve into the themes featured by this genre of movies. They have deep science concepts which you and your daughter can discuss at length such as space exploration, quantum mechanics, engineering and upcoming technologies. If the shows feature women taking up roles related to STEM it is even better to hear your daughter say “I want to be an engineer like Shuri in Black Panther!” Remember role models are very important.

5. If you have the means, buy computer parts and build a computer with your daughter. There are many online tutorials to help you build simple to complex machines. If she has taken up physics in secondary school it is good to encourage her to dismantle and reassemble gadgets within the house hold where she can see what these capacitors she has been learning about are. You can also do this if you note that instead of playing with her dolls she prefers to tear them apart and see what’s inside. I have noted girls’ secondary schools do not offer subjects like electricity or aviation which in itself speaks volumes about how not confident we are with girls doing these subjects. I studied in a top national school and to my shock those were not offered. I came to know of their existence when I saw the kcse timetable (bring up this issue in a PTA meeting).

6. Tell her about women who pioneered in science despite their names not being often mentioned or awarded. They are many such as Marie Curie who won two Nobel prizes in physics, Ada Lovelace who wrote the first computer program, Lise Meitner a physicist who was considered by Albert Einstein to be Germany’s own Marie Curie and Grace Hopper who was a great mathematician and computer programmer. If you have accomplished female acquaintances in STEM fields, introduce them to your daughter so she can ask questions and learn from their experiences. Encourage her to also join online forums about women who are already in STEM or aspire to join STEM careers.

7. Most of all, walk with her. Believe that she can make it and verbalize the same to her. Tell her that the boys in her class may seem to know it all but they really don’t know much as is the case in these classes at the university. In fact, a statistical analysis of this was done. Men rated themselves to be smarter than they are even if their GPAs didn’t support their claims and women rated themselves to be less smart and underestimated their abilities despite their GPAs telling a different story. Men are also more confident while answering questions in class even if they are wrong and women would only answer if they were sure they were correct. Clearly there is a confidence issue here, show your daughter it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them and encourage her to participate in class discussions despite being intimidated by her colleagues.


Next: AEC 301: Course Outline
Previous: A detailed piece on the Strathmore University dress code