STEM movements often miss one thing — the voices of today’s students.
If we want to create successful and lasting pathways, for all young people, into fields like science, technology, engineering and math, then our voices — and those of the millions of other young women like us— must be heard.
As high school students, we were born at the same time as the iPhone and after the launch of social media and YouTube. We are growing up in a world completely different from that of our parents, teachers and leaders.
As a result, our generation’s relationship with technology and STEM education is distinct. The way we access information and interact with each other is new. We see problems and solutions differently from the adults around us.
Our generation is set to inherit a complicated world with challenges we did not create; now is the time to start listening to us. And we have a few ideas about how to build a better, more inclusive future for women in STEM.
Number one: More after-school and summer STEM programs.
We envision a future in which every young girl can imagine themselves as a future engineer, coder or inventor. So many of us find our spark in STEM during programs that happen outside of school, whether it’s an after-school robotics program or a summer course with Girls Who Code.
Girls everywhere need access to STEM learning beyond the classroom that gives them the freedom to be curious and explore and gain confidence in STEM.
Number two: Youth ambassador opportunities that develop leadership and advocacy skills.
Unfortunately, many girls don’t stay engaged with an after-school program or STEM club because they are the only girl.
In our own STEM journeys, we learned what it feels like to be the “only.” It was lonely looking around a robotics competition or math club and feeling like an outsider.
Our experiences made us realize how challenging it can be to get more girls to attend after-school and summer STEM programs. We wanted to use our stories to help young girls like us who love STEM but are intimidated or worried about being the only girl. Unfortunately, we didn’t know how. That’s where a youth ambassador program made a real difference.
It was lonely looking around a robotics competition or math club and feeling like an outsider.
We answered a national call to join the inaugural Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew. The Flight Crew is a youth ambassador program that gives middle and high school girls a community to experience mentorship and learn about communication, advocacy, outreach and perseverance.
Programs like the Flight Crew give young girls the space to be seen and heard in the STEM community by giving us opportunities to speak at conferences and forums, share our ideas with the media, network with key leaders and learn effective leadership and communication skills.
As Flight Crew members, we have strengthened our voices and learned how to share our journeys to inspire and give confidence to other young girls from our communities and in cities across the country to pursue STEM. When it comes to reaching young girls, no one is a better messenger than us, their peers.
Number three: Adults and mentors who listen and make space.
Advocacy efforts need to include and be led by youth, but that means we need support from the adults who are leading these conversations. Young people have shown their power to rally efforts that advocate for climate action and ending gun violence in schools. It’s time we do the same for STEM.
We need a seat at the tables where decisions are made, from local school boards to national STEM initiatives, and platforms to amplify our voices. Those who already have platforms can help by sharing them with students.
The future of STEM is with us. All young girls should have the opportunity to find and use their voices through after-school and summer STEM programs. Our voice is a superpower. By rethinking STEM advocacy to uplift youth voices, STEM advocates can help students share our stories of celebration and failure.
We can remind our parents and teachers and leaders around our nation that all girls belong. We are the future of STEM.
Emerald Yankey is a junior in high school from Georgia and a member of the inaugural 2022 Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew. Emerald plans to study software engineering or computer science or astrophysics in college.