Host Melissa Harris-Perry was joined by an all-female panel on Saturday to discuss S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and its relationship to girls in our country. They addressed how important each of the S.T.E.M. fields are in promoting self-esteem and nourishing potential, as well as in eliminating negative stereotypes for women. First lady Michelle Obama spoke about this topic during a speech in 2011:
“Young people, particularly our girls, need to understand that doctors and scientists are something that anyone can become, no matter how much money your family has, no matter where you come from, or whether you are a man or a woman–and that message is more important than ever in today’s world.”
Seven-year-old Zora Ball, also known as the youngest person to create a mobile application video game, embodies what the first lady envisioned. Before even completing first grade, Ball amazed onlookers at a University of Pennsylvania expo with her extraordinary programming and configuration skills that won her the wide recognition.
Similar to Ball is another S.T.E.M. inspiration–an animated one. Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins is an educational preschool series popular among children across the country. In the series, the title character Dottie “Doc” McStuffins diagnoses and prescribes her playhouse patients. The tiny television doctor-to-be introduces the field of science and medicine to and many young viewers and especially inspires girls to dream in the medical direction.
Impressed and also inspired by the Disney Junior show is Dr. Althea Maybank, co-founder of the Artemis Medical Society. After noticing the small percentage of female doctors and even less African-American female doctors in the United States, Maybank co-founded the society to bring more black women into the field of medicine and to support those who make the commitment.
As Doc McStuffins is a popular show for girls, popular among the same demographic is the Girl Scouts of America organization. Harris-Perry explained her involvement with the Girl Scouts as a child and asked CEO Anna Maria Chavez about the correlation between S.T.E.M. and the troops. Chavez explained that many of the badges since beginning have been associated with science and math. “We’ve been working with girls for 100 years and our founder was very actually focused on S.T.E.M. even back in 1912,” she stated.
Christianne Corbett of the American Association of University Women applauded the efforts of the Girl Scouts and of shows like Doc McStuffins, but she also addressed to the panel some of the setbacks that exist for girls in S.T.E.M. education. A major deterrent for females is the existing stereotype that girls are not as good at math as boys. Corbett noted a study from Stanford University: “Among the girls and boys with the same mathematical achievement in test scores and grades, the girls assess themselves lower.”
With disheartening results like these, Dr. Maybank explained that this is a reason why her organization exists. Maybank works to eliminate the notion that it is unfeasible for women to excel in science and aims to bridge the gap between gender statistics in the field. “In a community and country which is becoming more and more diverse, we need to have a physician workforce that reflects that.”
See more of our conversation below.