This month, many organizations in the United States and abroad are celebrating women working in, and making a difference in STEM-related fields. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The skills gained through these subjects are desirable across industries and necessary to compete in today's workforce and careers of the future.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs even though more college-educated women are working now. There have been many studies aimed at finding the cause of the gender gap in STEM fields and while the recommendations for resolving vary, all conclude in the need to encourage and support women interested in pursuing STEM careers.
One of our inspiring middle school science teachers, Stephanie Immel, serves as an excellent role model for our female students interested in STEM. Below she shares her journey into STEM – the obstacles she faced as a woman pursuing a career in math and science, the advice she would give to young girls with similar education interests and goals, and what they can bring to STEM-related fields.
Here's Stephanie's STEM story.
What inspired you to become a science teacher?
I still remember the first time I truly felt challenged as a child. It was the first week of 8th grade and my science teacher, Mr. Parrish, issued a challenge to the entire class. He was actually a very abrasive man, clearly not looking to joke around with his students and didn’t want to waste any time. But during that first week, he told us we would be having our first test in a few days and that nobody had ever earned an A. I studied and studied and studied, determined to be the first person ever to earn an A. And I did! A 100 in fact. But that wasn’t even the most exciting part. While I was studying, I became very interested in what I was studying, forces and motion, and decided I absolutely loved science. It was so interesting to me how everything around us works because something else is working with or against it. Our world is so intricately designed. I had to learn more. After that first test, Mr. Parrish asked us to write in the top right-hand corner of the first paper in our notebook what we wanted to be when we grew up. My paper said, “middle school science teacher.”
Statistics show there's a gender gap in STEM-related fields. Some attribute it to girls not being encouraged in school to pursue STEM studies. Did you feel like this was the case when you were pursuing your education and were there obstacles you had to overcome as a woman to be in your chosen field?
As women, we are often underestimated in many areas: intelligence, stability, dependability, and strength. I had to fight my way to the front of many math and science classrooms. That’s probably why I started becoming the “teacher’s pet.” I just wanted to be seen as a member of the class who had thoughts and opinions. When I left the opportunity for engagement up to most of my teachers, boys got called on almost every single time. So I decided they wouldn’t have a choice but to notice me.
What do you love about teaching a STEM course?
The STEM world creates the opportunity to explore, discover, create, and learn how intricately God created our world with proof of its intricacies. Creating an environment where my students can not only learn about math and science, but have the ability to facilitate their own interactions, explorations, and discoveries are incredibly rewarding. The first time I witnessed a student discovering how amazingly functional God created the human organ systems… I was sold! STEM is where I’m supposed to be.
What advice would you give young girls interested in pursuing careers in STEM-related fields?
Don’t ever give up! Find an area of STEM that is absolutely mesmerizing to you and don’t let anybody keep you from learning and discovering everything there is to know about it. Ask questions. Get involved. Do your own learning outside of school, as well. There are so many people in STEM careers that want to get involved with young girls and STEM. Look them up and contact them. It’s never too early to start networking!
What advice would you give teachers about encouraging girls and boosting their confidence in STEM subjects?
Acknowledging our students is the first key to success. The relationships we build with all of our students is so important as we work to influence and build them up. Specifically, in STEM, we need to be sure we are issuing the same challenges to both girls and boys and that our expectations for both gender groups are the same. Don’t let the girls give up and don’t allow any of our students to use language that would create a gender gap in the STEM classroom. All students are able to succeed, and all students can contribute to the STEM classroom.
There's a lot of talk about the disadvantages women face pursuing careers in STEM fields, do you see any advantages they may have?
Women have an uncanny ability to interact and communicate with those around us. The empathy we are able to build and carry creates circumstances under which we are able to connect with the world around us. It is through our relational maturity that our connections spur interest, collaboration, interpretation, discovery, and a keen sense of awareness of what is going on around us.
What do you see is unique about GAC and its approach to STEM?
There are no limits to what is possible at GAC with our STEM department. GAC is consistently seeking new ideas and innovations that will benefit all of its students. Where many schools may struggle with the time, focus, and resources needed to create an experience that will catapult its students into future STEM careers, GAC continues to push forward in its program development and teacher support to ensure the best opportunities for its students.
What advantages do you see GAC girls (and boys) having in STEM?
GAC continues to demonstrate its commitment to the STEM program through funding, course offerings, resources, student activities, and the flexibility to think outside of the box. Whether students –boys and girls– are designing and building in Makers Space labs, completing Design Thinking projects across campus, or working in our state of the art Chemistry labs, our students are actively participating in gaining an understanding of the world around them through STEM. GAC consistently shows its dedication to furthering the field of STEM and ensuring all of its students are involved in the process.
At Greater Atlanta Christian School, we're thankful for teachers like Stephanie Immel who are committed to preparing all students to compete in a 21st-century workplace with the skills needed to succeed. Visit our campus to learn more about our STEM curriculum and to see our students in action as they discover unlimited possibilities in our state-of-the-art STEM facilities.