Careers in STEM Expand Horizons

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They say that actions speak louder than words, but sometimes numbers speak even louder. In an ever-growing tech-obsessed world, the number of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, is skyrocketing. In fact, the White House estimates that by 2018 there could be as many as 2.4 million unfulfilled STEM jobs in this country alone.

With prospects that promising, we might expect that college students would be jumping at the chance to fill those jobs. The problem, however, is that most people jumping into these roles are male, with women vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce at less than 25 percent despite representing 57 percent of college students.

Women already working across STEM fields agree that a whole host of reasons could be at the root of this disjoint: culture, the media, and a general lack of awareness and female role models. Uneven representation varies across specific fields, but one thing is for certain: from drone pilots to video game coders, women are slowly but certainly making themselves part of the STEM landscape, and opportunities abound.

Drone Pilots
Female pilots have been an anomaly in the aviation world, still representing a mere six percent of pilots worldwide. That figure also encompasses women flying drones, an expanding sector often associated with completing dangerous military missions. Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also allow a pilot to deliver packages for companies, a use that may be available in five years, snap stunning aerial photographs and videos, and so much more without being aboard the aircraft. The diversity of drone usage is abundant, so why aren’t the pilots a diverse mix as well?

One answer could be marketing: Men are behind approximately 98 percent of all drone-related purchases. Therefore, the natural inclination may be to continue marketing toward men only, perpetuating a lack of female interest. But organizations such as Women of Commercial Drones, female-run companies such as Trumbull Unmanned, and events including InterDrone Women in Drones are shining a spotlight on an exciting and flourishing industry.

Whether it is a career in military drone aviation or commercial drone flying, for uses in business, real estate and other ventures, this industry is on the cusp of massive development.

Video Game Development
One of the broadest and longest-standing STEM fields is computer science, enveloping everything from software engineering to website coding and video game developing.

When computers first gained popularity in the late 20th century, potential careers in this arena were aimed toward women, because computers were initially viewed as a tool for administrative work. In 1985, 37 percent of computer science degree earners were women, but as time progressed, the scales shifted. Today, 18 percent of these degree earners are women, making this the only STEM field that has actually seen a decrease in female interest.

To spotlight one career in particular, video game development has gained serious prominence in recent generations with the evolution of gaming consoles including Xbox, PlayStation, Wii and more. You’re hard pressed to find a home without one, and girls and women make up about 50 percent of gamers. Yet they are wildly underrepresented behind the scenes at only 22 percent of video game developers.

Groups such as Girls Who Code, Girl Develop It and Women in Games International are strengthening in numbers to gain back prominence in computer science industries. While female employees are in high demand across all STEM sectors, this area in particular is regaining traction rapidly.

Sitting at the crossroads of math, physics and engineering is robotics, another STEM career teeming with opportunities. Robots are used to assist in hospitals, detect bad weather, explore unmapped territory and even have intellectual conversations with humans. Much of the focus regarding future technology revolves around robotics, a career path that will allow experts to research brand new avenues.

At the Defense Advanced Research Projects Robotics Challenge Finals in 2015, almost 95 percent of participants were male. While numbers across the entire robotics field are slightly more in favor of women than that, men have historically designed and built the majority of robots. This has caused some robotics experts to wonder ridiculously if the machines are “too manly,” deterring girls and women from gaining interest. NASA counteracted by building two robots: one that was gender neutral named Robonaut, and another that was intentionally female named Valkyrie. While studies are still being fleshed out to determine whether it’s best to assign robots genders or not, this industry is calling on both men and women to step up to make those calls.

The breadth and depth of STEM careers are plentiful, the jobs themselves are rewarding, and opportunities are infinite. Whether girls and women dream of flying drones, developing video games, building robots or forging their own STEM way entirely, the key is for them to know that these paths are perfectly attainable—and that they deserve to be there. ■

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