Researchers are tackling the stubborn question of how gender bias impacts STEM education

STEM education at the K-12 and university levels has seen its share of headlines, as industry experts and policymakers tout its importance in the nation’s economy and workforce.

Despite the focus on engaging students in STEM education and encouraging them to pursue STEM majors in college, the STEM industry is still male-dominated. In fact, a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce study revealed that women hold approximately 50 percent of jobs in the country, but only fill just 25 percent of STEM jobs. That same study revealed that 17 of the top 20 highest-paying occupations require STEM skills.

With these gender disparities in mind, a collaborative research project between Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab and the School of Computer Science, called the HEAR ME project, is hoping to identify how students themselves feel about STEM education’s importance, and how they think gender bias could, or already does, impact them.

“STEM education has been a very big movement in education, and as we focus specifically on STEM learning, one thing we want to make sure of is that the biggest stakeholder in this is being heard,” said Jessica Kaminsky, project manager of the CREATE Lab at CMU and key researcher behind the HEAR ME project.

“Who better to ask about what STEM learning looks like, if they’re seeing a gender bias, than the students who are living out the STEM programs running in their schools?,” Kaminsky said, adding that gender bias at all levels of education will be examined to. “I interviewed a 5-year-old boy who told me very convincingly that only boys can make robots–girls can’t. He was really set on those gender norms. What does this look like when you’re in the university setting?”

(Next page: How the project addresses STEM education and gender bias)

Laura Ascione

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