Today, Amanda Adeleye, a medical student and Science Cheerleader, has a guest post on Nature News Network. She was invited to discuss how the glamorous world of cheerleading can mix with science.
Without burdening you with statistics, there does exist a persistent gender gap in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The question is “why?”. Some would argue that women are discouraged from these fields throughout elementary school and secondary school and that there several negative reinforcing messages to young women regarding these careers. Specifically, there are those out there who feel that activities like cheerleading focus on looks, dancing and popularity at the expense of “being smart.” There are some who wonder how can you be smart and a cheerleader. I think the subliminal question is “how can you be smart and a woman?” While you would be hard pressed to find a politically correct individual who would admit to these prejudices, they exist and are often perceived by our young women. However, my feeling is that these prejudices do not come from a place of malice but rather ignorance.
Science Cheerleader is a wonderful and multifaceted way to spread knowledge and battle some of the ignorance that exists about women in science. First, it brings to the forefront this contrast between cheerleaders and scientists (that really should not be a contrast at all). In my time as a science cheerleader, I have met incredible women who are NASA engineers, or women attaining PhDs in chemistry and psychology, or science teachers themselves. Importantly, the guests that interact with Science Cheerleaders have the opportunity to meet these amazing women as well. Second, and very close to my heart, is the way that Science Cheerleaders are able to reach out to girls and young women at such an impressionable time in their lives. They may initially be attracted by the shiny pom-poms, big smiles, big boots and fun music, but they stay because they learn and they get excited about science.
It makes me truly happy to see how Science Cheerleaders has been able to reach out to young women and show them how exciting and important the field is. When I entered Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1968, there were 5 girls and 5000 men. Had I stayed in college, I might have gotten a doctorate, but it was not to be. I explored technology, but from the bottom up. The men didn’t want competition for their sacred space, so I remained in assembly at minimum wage for years. I went to school part time while working as a technician full time. I eventually became a non-degreed engineer at JPL for about a dozen years. (Probably due to Affirmative Action) While unemployed, I decided to finish my BS in Technology Management. Now, I’m ready to enter the workforce again with my new degree.
Hopefully the Obama jobs plan has a way for me to join a development team and build something for the 21st Century. We need to both fix existing infrastructure and build one to support a growing spacefaring society. We have learned that the Earth is fragile but can come back and heal itself. Guidance for sustainability is an area that women will naturally excel. I am proud of this generation of professional women coming of age. There really is a lot to be excited about! Science and technology in the next ten years is sure to blow our socks off.