How do your friends, family and colleagues perceive you? Are you known as the crafty one, the person who never misses a birthday, the go-to for advice? Your answer to this question carries seeds of information about your identity. Identity can be defined as how you see yourself, as well as how others see you.
According to researcher and professor of free-choice learning Dr. John Falk, identity can be viewed through the lenses of situational identity and core identity. Situational identity changes based upon the various roles and scenarios we go in and out of — sometimes changing from moment to moment and context to context. Core identity, on the other hand, tends to be more stable and deeply rooted in values and beliefs.
As a Senior Creative Content Specialist for the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), I spend a lot of time thinking about the role science plays in children’s identities. Based on my own observations in our programs over the past decade, it is often apparent that the boys engaging in our programs have had more experience with toys and projects that readily build STEM skills (e.g., building toys, robotics, using tools, etc.). I see time and again how access, exposure and opportunity are the great equalizers.
Studying the Impact of STEM Experiences
Dr. Lynn Dierking, also a researcher and professor of free-choice learning, and Dale McCreedy of the Franklin Institute, offer keen insights on girls and STEM in the Franklin Institute’s 2013 publication Cascading Influences: Long-Term Impacts of Informal STEM Experiences for Girls.
This study, funded by the National Science Foundation, focused on whether girls-only, informal STEM experiences have potential long-term influences on the lives of diverse young women who remain underrepresented in these career fields. While the researchers had short-term evidence that these programs engage girls and inspire their excitement for science, what they hoped to discover was whether these programs had long-term impacts (through five to more than 25 years) on young women’s lives. Did they influence future choices in education, careers, leisure pursuits or ways of thinking about what science is and who does it?
First, let’s look at the good news. Many women in the sample indicated that STEM plays a significant role in their daily lives — they are now either working in traditional science careers or engaging in science-related careers, interests and hobbies.
Now we must acknowledge the tough news — and the call to action. This study showed there are still tensions around how girls and women think about what counts as science. Unfortunately, a sterile laboratory setting is still the predominant image that comes to mind for many young women when they think about science careers.
Shaping the Perception of STEM Fields
Research findings of this nature significantly influence our approach in our Camp Invention® and Invention Project® programs. For instance, we frequently deliver authentic invention challenges through video messages from our NIHF Inductees, such as Radia Perlman (Robust Network Routing and Bridging) and Kristina Johnson (Polarization-Control Technology). These challenges lead children to identify with cutting-edge STEM innovators working outside of the “sterile laboratory” and offer multiple entry points into the challenges. As demonstrated by research from Opportunity Insights, when we give children access to such innovative experiences at an early age, we increase the likelihood that they will become innovative adults.
We are providing children with STEM experiences that redefine the entire world as their laboratory, and we invite you to join us in this mission. Learn more about our Inductee-influenced education programs and our efforts to promote diverse, inspiring STEM role models by visiting invent.org.