How to Encourage Women to Consider STEM Majors

A leading female in the sciences says colleges, professionals, and parents all play important roles.

Alicia Abella of AT&T Labs wants more females to consider STEM majors.

Alicia Abella of AT&T Labs wants more females to consider STEM majors.

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I encourage them to encourage their children to consider science and math. It's quite often hard for these parents to do that because they themselves think, 'Well, I'm not a scientist or engineer. How can I encourage my child to do that if I'm not a scientist or engineer?' You don't have to be, as a parent. All you have to do is give your child the encouragement to at least try it. 

Even just asking students, "How was your homework today? How was that test?"—that's a lot of what the students need ... [Parents] don't have to know the math to take an interest in their child's education. 

[Find out why STEM engagement needs to begin early.] 

8. Is it ever too late to enter a STEM field if you've started out on a different educational path?

I would say there's always a chance. In fact, it's interesting—coming from the computer science perspective, because it is such a cross-disciplinary area, it might even be useful to get a degree in a different field and then get the engineering/science degree afterward. 

In fact, I've hired a new researcher in my group who just got her Ph.D. in computer science, and her bachelor's degree is ... in design and art. Her design work has helped in [computer science] because that field is about designing applications and services for consumers, and you have to have an appreciation for being able to create easy-to-use programs and ... also [have] a knack for arts and beauty. Having that diverse background for her helped sell her to me. 

9. Is there anything colleges should be doing to encourage more STEM students?

[STEM programs are] not always portrayed in a cross-disciplinary manner, or marketed as, 'These are the kinds of careers and things you can do with a degree if you go into this field.' A lot of the students I've talked to, even at Ivy League universities in engineering programs in their senior year, aren't sure what they're going to do when they graduate. That, it seems to me, is astonishing. 

I think there could be a better job done in ... marketing these programs and in helping to identify the kinds of careers and things you can do with a degree when you finish.

I think of a STEM degree as a degree in problem solving. If you think of life as something where you're always going to be solving problems, then you're pretty well equipped to succeed in life when you have a STEM degree. Something as simple as that can actually help to encourage people to go into those fields. 

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