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STEM good for girls

Much has been made about the gender gap in subjects such as science, technology, engineering and math and the careers related to them.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, females and males in kindergarten through 12th grade participate and achieve at roughly the same levels across most of the “STEM” disciplines, with the exception of engineering and computer science.

However, the gender gap becomes very clear in higher education. In 2013, women earned 57.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees in all fields but only 17.9 percent in the computer sciences and 19.3 percent in engineering, for example.

Progressing into the workforce, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce but only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

Gaps influenced by race and socioeconomic status also exist in the STEM areas and are even more stark than the gender gap.

The reasons for these gaps are uncertain, but one thing is for sure. Exposing girls from all walks of life to STEM enrichment opportunities and career paths can only have a positive impact for those girls who otherwise may not have had these opportunities or considered a career in the areas of science, technology, engineering or math. Even if they don’t wind up as a chemist, engineer or mathematician, a broader worldview will serve them well in whatever profession they choose.

JaKyra Woodall, an 11-year-old sixth-grader from King’s Fork Middle School, recently got one such opportunity as one of about 60 girls from across Hampton Roads who attended the Capital One Coders Experience Challenge at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach.

JaKyra worked with a partner to develop an app that helps users coordinate matching outfits for any color choice, season or occasion from their existing wardrobe.

Their app ranked in the top three for the competition, so they were then invited to attend the Women in Technology Experience Conference in Richmond, where JaKyra got to take apart computer monitors, meet an interactive robot, communicate in Morse code, see coding applications in the performing arts and meet other girls with similar interests.

JaKyra, her parents, her teachers and the others who nurtured her interest in technology and helped her attend these events deserve to be applauded. We hope more Suffolk students will be able to attend similar events in the future.