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Local junior high bridging the gender gap in STEM

Local junior high bridging the gender gap in STEM

WEST VALLEY, Wash. -- “It's a very obvious gender gap,” said STEM Computer Essentials teacher at West Valley Junior High, Devina Khan. Khan is referring to the ratio of women to men in careers that are science, technology, engineering, and math-based.

She said women are highly underrepresented in these fields, and that society is to blame.

“Probably girls have just grown up in a culture where they picked fields that seemed more predictable. There was a lot of fear, that, 'Oh, I can't code, you know, girls cant code, girls can't do math, we're not good at engineering, this is not our thing,'” said Khan.

This prompted her to start IGNITE, a program that encourages girls as early as 6th grade to get involved in the areas of STEM. They work on coding, have the opportunity to listen to women in tech careers now, and go on field trips. Most recently, the group took a trip to Microsoft, which she says was inspiring to many of the girls.

“There is huge potential, and that's why we're encouraging more and more people to look into STEM, most especially, girls, and they're well-paid jobs, so why not?” asked Khan.

According to the Economics and Statistics Administration, in 2017, women made up about 30 percent of all STEM degree holders. Although they filled nearly half the jobs in the U.S., they only held about a quarter of STEM jobs. And for those women who do hold those STEM jobs, it pays off, because they earn about 35 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs.

Khan says there will be about 1.4 million jobs in technology, by the year 2020, but based on current graduation rates, only 30 percent of those jobs can be filled.

Girls like 13-year-old Hannah Lesniak says being a part of IGNITE has encouraged her to want to be a girl who fills one of those jobs.

“I've always had this dream, because I like stars and astronomy, so I always thought it would be really cool to work at NASA - help with programming and building the spaceships,” she said.

14-year-old Eli Capi says if she's learned anything from being a part of IGNITE and the potential that girls and women have, it's this:

“It doesn't really matter the difference between genders, it's just the way you think, the way you wanna process things, the way you're gonna take life. It's not much of how you look or who you are, it's just more of, 'What are you gonna do with what you have?'" said Capi.

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