Building Students' Confidence for Success in STEM Programs and Careers

What drives a student's interest in STEM? Some people believe that these concepts come naturally to certain individuals, thinking that the "math gene" or the "science gene" gets bestowed on the lucky ones, like the tooth fairy leaving a quarter under their pillow. While this may have been believable at one time or another, now students have access to countless channels of information, STEM subjects are becoming a higher priority in classrooms, and learning is evolving into more of a fun activity.

Photo of two students participating in a STEM related activity

Students learn while using Smithsonian educational resources

In an interview with Jennifer Reed, a first grade teacher for Falls Church City Public Schools, we asked her to explain some of the different ways that she begins to build students' interest in STEM subjects at an early age.

"The first step in building a young person's interest and confidence in science is ownership. Children learn at an incredible rate when they play a role in doing a project or an experiment. For example, our school holds Lego car races about once a month where students get to build different cars to run on different tracks. Sometimes the car will have to make a jump; sometimes the car will have to drive over sandpaper. It's never the same race twice. The students feel independent when they build their cars according to what they believe will win the race. Throughout the year, my students have learned to account for different types of motion and energy and can define them as they see and understand these forces acting on their cars. After the races, we discuss the best and worst models and why they worked or didn't work for each scenario. The students love it and I see them becoming more confident in their decisions when building the cars and having fun while they learn! During math time, I try to keep things interesting by making up games and teaching the students tricks, rhymes, or acronyms to use when solving math problems. We're finding fun in learning and I feel great knowing that my students will be much more likely to succeed in future STEM programs and potential careers because of this."

This kind of learning is not something I know well. I was brought up with a very traditional education of textbooks and paper. My math time consisted of solving long division questions in a workbook for an hour, or watching teachers demonstrate problem after problem on the chalkboard. There were no songs, there were no games. Science was typically a lecture; experiments were rarely conducted and often seemed much more stressful and scary than exciting. I had no confidence in my science and math skills. When it came time to choose a major in college, I oohed and aahed over choices like marine biology and astronomy. However, their course requirements, which included extensive amounts of physics and calculus, deterred me. I ended up choosing to study business management because I was at least confident enough that I could pass Algebra. After hearing Jennifer discuss how much fun her students have during science and math time, I couldn't help but feel a little cheated and jealous that I had missed out on something so fun. What would my life be like if I had the confidence to choose a career in STEM?

This is why organizations like STEMconnector are so invaluable. They are committed to changing the way students and teachers approach science and math and provide resources to knock out obstacles. A perfect example of this is the launch of Million Women Mentors (MWM). On January 8, 2014, the MWM website officially opened, leading a national call to action for corporations, government entities, non-profits and higher education groups to pledge to become mentors to young women. MWM connects girls and young women with STEM professionals who will provide high quality mentoring and sponsorship in their local area. Exposing girls to successful role models helps counter negative stereotypes as they watch their mentors thrive and succeed in STEM careers. Mentors increase the confidence of girls and young women, deepen their interest in STEM fields, and enable them to persist and succeed in STEM programs and careers. Million Women Mentors is doing more than just telling students they can become rocket scientists--it is inspiring them to make the right choices and stay on a successful path. It is changing lives.

I would like to challenge everyone reading this to make a difference in someone's life today. If you are a student, look for opportunities through your school for mentorship. If you have experience under your belt, pledge to mentor a student or child that you know, or sign up at www.MillionWomenMentors.org to get matched up with a local student in your area. Don't let another day go by without living up to your full potential. Don't be like me and wonder "what if?" Be confident. Build confidence in others. Choose STEM.

Related Tags

About the Author

Simone Stewart
SSEC Human Resources Assistant

Simone initiates, processes, and monitors personnel actions through HRMS systems; ensures accurate information is reported and kept; and provides information to facilitate personnel management activities. Simone has assisted in the addition of 13 new employees and recruited 8 summer interns.