So, the mission of Project Ignite Her is to close the representation gap for Black women and girls in STEM by closing the aspiration gap and supporting holistic development. That’s what guides our content and intentions. But, what does STEM even involve? Let’s break down the powerful acronym.
STEM stands for Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Mathematics and it refers to fields and curricula centered on education in those named disciplines. The term was coined in 2001 by Dr Judith Ramaley when she worked in the U.S. National Science Foundation. Dr Ramaley is a biologist and was the assistant director of education and human resources at the time. The previously used term was SMET. When asked why she reordered the letters, she said, “I did so because science and math support the other two disciplines and because STEM sounds nicer than SMET. The older term subtly implies that science and math came first or were better. The newer term suggests a meaningful connection among them."
Interestingly, there is some confusion over what counts as a STEM subject or job. Obvious examples are those explicitly referenced in the acronym; the pure sciences of biology, chemistry and physics; maths; engineering and technology related pursuits such as computer science and computer hardware engineering. Some people even debate whether or not Medicine is a part of STEM (given that it is a practical biological enterprise, I think Medicine is obviously a part of STEM). In the US, Economics is considered a STEM subject because it can often contain significant mathematical content. Music engineering, which is arguably a job in the creative industry, is also a STEM job.
People also do not class social sciences within STEM. The prevalent narrative is that they are about reading and randomly hypothesising while the traditional idea of STEM involves experimentation, objective proof and a (false) assumption of objective difficulty in understanding the concepts. Social sciences like Psychology, Geography and Archeology have a lot of overlap in how they are constructed with traditional STEM subjects but continue to be excluded from the umbrella definition.
With new jobs popping up everyday and people creating their own roles by integrating their skills and interests, who knows what is to come. Studies and activities which have a strong grounding in and require a deep understanding of scientific concepts are STEM-related fields.
The push for more students to get involved in STEM activities and study STEM subjects is partly driven by employment needs. The jobs of the present and future require strong technical literacy. Thus, governments have an incentive to advocate for STEM so that they have an adequate skilled workforce. On an individual level, because there is a high demand for people with technical skills, these jobs also carry high salaries and prestige so we have a personal incentive to explore STEM jobs.
There are few statistics which disaggregate data appropriately. The statistics which haunts meis from Pew research and they claim that only 2.9% of STEM graduates in the US are Black women. Black women make up about 13% of the US population and because I believe that talent is pervasive, there is no reason for us to be so under-represented. All dreams are valid but because of systemic and social barriers, many Black girls don’t know they can dream these dreams. We are going to help change that.