Encouraging STEM #2: Find Role Models

This is part of a continuing series by Carrie Rogers-Whitehead based on her article, “5 ways to advocate for women in STEM” with an in-depth look at each points. Check back weekly for new installments!  

“I would ask myself ‘Who do I look up to? Where is my example?'”
– Thelina Smith, Miss Utah International,
biomedical engineer and founder of SELF-ESTEAM

Girls need real-life role models.
They need to see where women can go
and to hear stories of how they got there.

Shelly Gramajo, a computer scientist, QA software tester, and mother of two, has been actively searching out opportunities for her middle school daughter to observe women in STEM, and struggling to find them. She’s understandably frustrated, as this could be a crucial part of encouraging her daughter’s interests. As Shelly put it: “It’s hard to aspire to something you can’t see.”

Seeing fewer women in STEM fields can inadvertently send the message that women aren’t welcome in them. Sadly, sometimes the message is intentional, such as recent controversial statements by biochemist Tim Hunt, claiming that women in the lab are a distraction who should be segregated from the men.

Intentional or not, these messages have a real impact. Lack of role models, particularly for younger women, can affect their long-term education and careers. Role models provide not only inspiration, but mentorship, support, and advocacy.

So, how can we get more of them?!
Dr. Angela Trego, assistant professor at Utah Valley University and executive board member of the Women Tech Council, believes women working in STEM fields can make a difference today and offered two suggestions:

“Excel at what you do!” The more women who are successful, the more those around them realize that they too can be successful.
“Reach out to other women!” Offer to provide mentoring or be a listening ear, particularly those younger or in less senior positions.

What can the rest of us do? Shelly Gramajo would like to see more resources available in Utah schools, such as a database of professionals willing to host students. Do you have any ideas about how we can increase the number of STEM role models for women? Leave them in the comments!

Working together we can increase the presence of women STEM role models in Utah, increasing the options for Utah women, if we just remember that it is hard to aspire to what you can’t see.



 Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is a senior librarian with Salt Lake County Library, teaches at Salt Lake Community College, and is a regular contributor at KSL.com. She holds a Masters in Library and Information Science and Masters in Public Administration and is passionate about women’s education. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her preschool son and husband. Contact her at rogers-whitehead@hotmail.com



For More Info Check Out:

Encouraging STEM #1: Make Women Visible
Encouraging STEM #3: Create a Safe Environment
Encouraging STEM #4: Reframe the Conversation
Encouraging STEM #5: Create Partnerships

The Women Tech Council and the work they do!
“Miss Utah International: From Poverty to STEM advocacy”
The UWEI Research & Policy Brief: Utah Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics)