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Girl Scouts’ study shows career stereotypes still prevalent

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Isabel Lee, 11, from Long Grove, waves to Katie Chiasson, left, 11, from Long Grove as Anisha Rao, far right, 11, from Kildeer, looks on as they play on a truck at Navistar in Lisle on Monday, February 20, 2012. The girls Girl Scout troop visited Navistar as part of an initiative to get more girls involved in math and science related careers | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

By the numbers

Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana released on Monday the results of “Generation STEM: What Girls Say about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math,” the latest study from the Girl Scout Research Institute. Here are highlights of the findings:

Although girl interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is high and 82 percent of girls see themselves as “smart enough to have a career in STEM,” few girls consider it their No. 1 option.

Eighty-one percent of girls interested in STEM are interested in pursuing STEM careers, but only 13 percent say it’s their first choice.

Girls also say they don’t know a lot about these careers and related opportunities: 60 percent of STEM-interested girls acknowledge that they know more about other careers than they do about STEM careers.

Updated: March 23, 2012 8:07AM

Girls are definitely wired to be the future scientists and technological engineers of tomorrow.

That message was one of the focal points of a program Monday morning at Navistar’s headquarters in Lisle. The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana offered teams of girls the chance to show their expertise in science and math through Lego Robotics projects that were on display during a two-hour program.

The event coincided with a presentation by the Girl Scouts introducing the STEM Advisory Task Force, a group of experts who plan to provide guidance and support as well as initiatives that will lead more girls into careers based in math and science.

“There is a huge disconnect between what girls say they are interested in and what they eventually wind up doing career-wise,” said Kamla Modi, research and outreach analyst for the Greater Chicago Girls Scouts organization. “We started our science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research a year ago, and our findings show that there are a lot of stereotypes out there about what girls should or shouldn’t do career wise, even though they are just as strong as males in the fields of science and math. Girls lack role models in the field.”

Various teams of Scouts came out Monday to demonstrate their robotics projects as well as listen to a roundtable discussion about the STEM research and how it could impact future careers for women. Former Naperville resident Maria Wynne, CEO of the Girl Scouts Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, said that too many girls fail to stay involved in science and technology fields or drop out of them before completion of their training.

“We feel that this is an economic issue affecting our future, since today, 50 percent of the workforce is made up of women, but only 25 percent of the people in the science and math professions are women,” she said.

Allison Chen of Long Grove was among one of the team members who presented a robotics project in which she and her friends learned something about listeria, a bacteria that can still be present in milk despite pasteurization. Chen’s coach Laurie Haas said her “Moovers” team recently took first in a state competition with nationals in May.

“We started working on this project in early September and had about 90 days to get it ready,” she said. “Our project was to come up with a solution where people could test for listeria on their own at home. We are planning to go to May Watts Elementary School in Naperville on Thursday of this week to participate in their science fair.”

Chen, 12, said she joined the Scout group two years ago at the urging of another friend and that being involved in science and technology could help prepare her for her future career.

“I am thinking of becoming a doctor when I grow up, and even though this project involves robotics, there is still a lot of science involved,” Chen said. “I think one of the most important things I’ve learned from being a part of this is listening to other people and learning about teamwork.”

Naperville resident Katie Schneider, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School, said she has been accepted by three colleges, including the University of Illinois, Michigan and Purdue University, in their nuclear engineering programs. She brought her cousin to the Navistar event to give her some exposure.

“I want to someday work with nuclear plants to make cleaner energy, and even though I feel like women today are in the minority in terms of the science fields, I think there are opportunities for advancement,” she said.

Lisle Mayor Joe Broda described the opportunity for the Scouts on Monday as “exciting and a great opportunity to understand more about what has been a ‘man’s world.’”

“I see this as a phenomenal opportunity,” he said.

and as a father of three daughters myself, you want to see this type of thing for women,” Broda said. “The world we live in is vastly different from that of even 10 years ago, and up to now, it’s been a world designed by men. That needs to change.”

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