I vividly recall the day that the vice principal of my secondary school paid a visit to my JSS 2 classroom. I remember that it was prep time, and before he made his appearance, the whole class was in an uproar. Just imagine the scene, 20 girls aged 10 to 12 years, in a classroom all speaking at the same time. Some singing, some shouting, some running around playing pranks, little wonder the Vice Principal turned up. In all my years at school, this is the only time I recall the Vice Principal visiting my class and to this day, I am glad he visited.
When he stepped on the threshold, it took a few seconds for order to be restored. As you can imagine, some pranksters had their backs to him as he approached and were oblivious of his presence until the silence from most of our classmates caused them to halt mid-sentence and look over their shoulders. The first thing he did was to chide us all for making such a noise and not studying our books as we were meant to. He then went on to ask us some specific questions including one about mathematics. I don’t think any of us particularly impressed him with our mathematical prowess and so he parted with words to this effect, “if you love Maths, Maths will love you. You can only become good at something that you pay attention to. It may be challenging but if you focus and study hard, you will get better at it”.
For the rest of the evening, I mulled over his words and embraced what he said. From that day, Maths and I became friends. Previous to that, I couldn’t be bothered much with it. Being naturally intelligent, I often got enough from the lessons to get a good pass mark, but because I paid little attention, I never really understood the principles behind it. After the vice principal visited and made his comments, i decided to embrace Maths and other subjects. When I eventually decided to study science, because I showed more aptitude for it, I applied what he said to all my other subjects. When I reflect on what happened that day, two things strike me:
- I was inspired to be better from that day because someone showed me a better way, a way unknown to me until he showed it was possible and gave advice on how to achieve the goal.
- I was encouraged to embrace a subject that females were traditionally told was too hard for us to study by a man. This showed that he believed that we were capable and that he believed that we could succeed. He acted as a pseudo-mentor at that point in time, though he may not have done it purposefully.
Research shows that mentoring is a sure way of getting more young girls to study STEM. It is even more powerful when girls can see females like them succeeding at STEM careers, when they can hear from them stories of how they overcame challenges and obstacles to succeed. Armed with this information, it is more likely that young girls will aspire to become like the women they admire, which will encourage focus and determination to build a career in STEM. What can we all take away from this?
I would encourage females working in STEM to take a step towards mentoring other females and encouraging them to think about studying STEM subjects. This could be done formally through out reach programmes organised by work places or societies or simply by seeking to young girls within our circles of influence. Start small, start big, your choice, just start something and start as soon as you can. I also encourage young girls not to wait until someone comes to your school or reaches out to you. You can take the initiative and ask your parents to help connect you to people in the circle who could speak to you about STEM. Of course, this must all be done with child protection in mind. As a minor, you must never speak to anyone without parental consent, and if parental consent is given and you feel uncomfortable around anyone giving you career advice, you must immediately withdraw and tell your parents. Your safety is paramount.
To conclude, many women have successful careers in STEM. Anyone who has an aptitude and an interest can study STEM. More work needs to be done to connect young girls in early education to visible role models and vice versa. If you are a female working in a STEM career, get in, find someone to mentor today. And to the young ladies, you have everything you need to succeed. Keep believing.