Boossier Chamber fights for more women in STEM

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(Courtesy of Bossier Chamber of Commerce) Miss Louisiana Justine Ker shows off an old science fair poster at the Bossier Chamber’s Education and Innovation Luncheon last week.
Sean Green
sean@bossierpress.com

There will be 69,000 vacant science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs in Louisiana by 2018 and the void of women ready and willing to fill those jobs is an issue the Bossier Chamber of Commerce is trying to solve.

At the chamber’s inaugural Education and Innovation Luncheon: Inspiring Women in STEM last Thursday, 60 Bossier Parish students and 22 educators heard from women who are striving to get young women in these fields.

“We want to encourage you to enter STEM courses and STEM related fields. We believe you all can be great assets,” said Lisa Johnson, president of the Bossier Chamber of Commerce.

The stats are staggering:

  • Two thirds of STEM jobs go to men.
  • Female achievement is on par with men through 12th grade, inequality emerges in secondary education.
  • Women represent almost half the workforce but comprise only 25% of the STEM workforce.
  • World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap said it will take 170 years for women to earn as much as men.
  • Women comprise only 19% of the engineer workforce.
  • Although 80% of the healthcare field is comprise of women, only half that are in decision making roles.

Guest speaker Miss Louisiana Justine Ker, a Ruston native, is a neuroscience graduate from Vanderbilt University. She uses her position to advocate for more women in STEM.

“Pursue your passion. Don’t let anybody stop you. We have plenty of opportunities in northwest Louisiana,” Ker said.

She told the students committed to STEM careers that it takes dedication and persistence to break into the field and generate opportunities for themselves.

“I was a very curious child and it was the educators who kept encouraging me,” she said. “I emailed lots of professors in this area to ask if there was any opportunity for me to shadow them…So after cheerleading practice I would go to Louisiana Tech and sit in the lab for a couple of hours.”

Keynote speaker and K-6 science curriculum instructional specialist for Caddo Parish Schools K. Renae Pullen used the recent cyber attacks on major websites to underscore the need for people in the STEM field, noting those spots can and should be filled by women.

“They can be the ones who protect us and keep us safe.”

The Bossier Innovates Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of the Bossier Chamber, awarded scholarships to high school junior girls who have identified an interest in majoring in STEM-related subjects. Two $1,000 scholarships went to Caitlin Simcox of Airline High School and Sara Miller of Haughton High School, while two $500 scholarships were given to Madeline Sauced of Parkway High School and Lauren Martin of Airline High School.
The Bossier Innovates Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of the Bossier Chamber, awarded scholarships to high school junior girls who have identified an interest in majoring in STEM-related subjects. Two $1,000 scholarships went to Caitlin Simcox of Airline High School and Sara Miller of Haughton High School, while two $500 scholarships were given to Madeline Sauced of Parkway High School and Lauren Martin of Airline High School.

Pullen noted that this type of career didn’t exist 20 years ago and now “it’s in our community.”

“There are jobs here, and how wonderful would it be if we could fill those jobs with our young women?” Pullen asked rhetorically.

She warned that although hard work and staying active in the field can open many doors, there will still be obstacles for women trying to break into a STEM career.

“We have a lack of representation, networking and mentoring. Women earn one-third less than their male counterparts,” Pullen noted.

She also explained that women face a unique hurdle in that STEM is not a family-friendly career when it comes to flexibility. It’s one that she said is unjust.

“I don’t think women should be impeded from success just because they want to have a family.”

Lastly, there is a lack of awareness among young women and gender stereotyping still persists when it comes to deciding careers.

“We’re not getting our girls excited about STEM at an early age,” said Pullen.

Her advice to overcome these obstacles was to learn from failure, show up on time, work hard, say “Yes,” and don’t let obstacles define you.

“Use (your failures) as a learning opportunity,” Pullen advised. “The saying is you miss every shot you don’t take, take every single shot.”

“You are the future. You’re the ones who are going to make this world better.”

At the event, the Chamber introduced a new award: excellence in innovation and education. The inaugural recipient was Bossier Schools’ Charlene Cooper for her efforts to promote STEM in schools and help implement the Cyber Innovation Center’s national education curriculum.

The Bossier Innovates Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of the Bossier Chamber, awarded scholarships to high school junior girls who have identified an interest in majoring in STEM-related subjects. Two $1,000 scholarships went to Caitlin Simcox of Airline High School and Sara Miller of Haughton High School, while two $500 scholarships were given to Madeline Sauced of Parkway High School and Lauren Martin of Airline High School.