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How parents can encourage daughters in STEM fields

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

March is Expanding Girls' Horizons in Science and Engineering Month, and one working professional in the industry says parents can play a huge role in helping girls to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Karen Purcell, who founded PK Electrical, an award-winning electrical engineering, design and consulting firm based in Reno, Nev., is the author of "Unlocking Your Brilliance: Smart Strategies for Women to Thrive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math." Purcell is also the founder of STEMspire, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire young women to enter the STEM fields with confidence.

Purcell said in news release that she excelled at math and science in high school, yet it still didn't occur to her to pursue a career in that field. She said it wasn't until her senior year, when she was trying to decide on a college major, when her physics teacher became her "accidental mentor" by suggesting she consider engineering.

All too often, Purcell says, girls who are proficient in STEM subjects fall through the cracks because they are considered to be "boy subjects." And that's too bad, she said, because there are multiple reasons why girls should consider the STEM fields:

When we excel in a subject, we love learning more and working in that subject area

Earning potential, and therefore financial security can be very high in STEM careers

The world of STEM needs more females to bring their perspective, inventiveness, and problem solving skills to the table

STEM fields are among the fastest growing job segments in our nation's economy

Your daughter will be challenged and expected to continue learning and growing in her STEM field

There is a bias that these careers are better suited for boys -- but it is simply not the case. Study after study shows that girls outperform boys in these subjects, yet they are not seeking out related careers.

Purcell said family support is crucial to a young girl's confidence level if they are to pursue a STEM career. She offers these tips for parents to encourage their daughters in the STEM subjects:

From an early age, develop curiosity in your child by asking questions about how things work and the world around us

Make family outings educational with visits to science centers and museums

Identify and discuss the science and math in everyday life when cooking together, walks in nature, and playing with toys

Do fun experiments using everyday objects -- you can find tons of ideas online or in science at-home experiment books

As your daughter progresses through school, encourage her to take more difficult math and science courses and provide her the support necessary to succeed, including tutoring.