Lakeshore Report

Groups Hope to Spark Careers in Growing STEM Fields

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March 28, 2014 — In 2012, Indiana’s boys outperformed girls on Advanced Placement exams in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subject tests. The latest U.S. Census shows Lake County is home to the state’s second largest number of girls ages ten to nineteen.

These girls are curious and constantly questioning. Posing potential answers — and observing the electrifying outcome. A miniature model of electric voltage is part of a partnership between NIPSCO and the Girl Scouts of greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana that hopes to spark an interest in high-growth job fields.

“We asked what is it that we need to do get girls interested in science technology engineering and math,” says Vicki King, vice president of partnerships for the Girl Scouts of greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana. The answer is a day where more than 100 girls came together to find out how their curiosity can become a career.

“It’s getting girls intrigued or interested at younger ages, you know, that math is a cool thing and science is a cool thing and don’t be scared of being interested in those things as a girl,” says Ashley Terry, a field engineering leader at NIPSCO. “The technology field needs more females in it.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that in 2018, over 120,000 STEM jobs will exist for Hoosiers. Educators at Purdue University North Central say exposing both boys and girls to STEM skills can help fill those jobs.

“We’re largely coming out of an era where the United States has dominated in most stem disciplines and one of the things we’re finding now is we’re falling a bit short in those areas,” says Chris Holford, professor of biology and interim dean of the College of Science at Purdue University North Central. “[There is] the idea of an invisible profession where young women don’t really understand what an engineer does on a daily basis and I think if they had that understanding, that you could excite them and open avenues.”

Ten-year-old Megan Pierce has her own concept of the field.

“An engineer is a person who uses their mind to be very creative and use a lot of mathematics to create things and fix things,” Pierce says. “I think engineering is kind of really fascinating after seeing all this stuff and it’s like — with the village — I think more girls should get introduced to it. I think this is a very good idea so that there are more engineers.”

Pierce is in 5th grade at Boone Grove Elementary. Boone Township and six other area school corporations recently earned a $450,000 federal grant to boost stem education over the next three years. Purdue North Central professors will help train teachers on how to strengthen stem skills.

“What we’re trying to really do is to get math and science teachers to work together,” says interim chair of the Department of Education at Purdue North Central. “Many times at the middle school level, they are isolated and they do not talk to each other. So one of our goals is to get them to work together to get some common lessons so they can build off of each other.”

Holford says recent state studies found only 15 percent of high school students are ready for STEM-related courses when they get to college. He says he hopes programs and grants like these help change that.

Per a White House report, the average pay for STEM jobs is higher than some liberal arts occupations, and the gender pay gap is smaller.

Numbers that might matter to 10-year-old Claudia Pearson, who says she is set for a STEM career after spending a day at NIPSCO.

“Since my grandpa works here, he really likes that I enjoy going to NIPSCO and I enjoy it too,” she says. “He is an electric dispatcher and what I would like to be is a linesman that works up in the telephone poles, and I think that would be cool. I bet they need more women to have that job, and I would really like to have that job.”

Indiana STEM Jobs Forecast


By: Hilary Powell

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