Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Boys need outreach, too

Lately, I've been finding myself doing a lot of public outreach directed towards boys.

This is mostly because I'm the mother of two boys, and both are heavily involved with Boy Scouts, and whenever they work on a badge related to science, they call upon their in-house scientist, namely me. And while I'd love to do more outreach to girls as well, it's easiest to follow the path of least resistance in pursuing outreach opportunities, given my busy life as pre-tenure faculty and working mother. The Girl Scouts don't seem to be nearly as active in my kids' school. It seems like the girls lose interest in scouting by 4th or 5th grade. I do volunteer in my kids' schools, too, but I don't do much exclusively with girls when I do.

So how does this jibe with my commitment and desire to increase the participation of women in STEM?

While I may not be directly encouraging girls in STEM by working with Boy Scouts, I do serve as an example to them. When I volunteered to talk about being a scientist to my older son's Webelos den, the den leader introduced me by saying, "We have a special guest scientist to speak to you today," and the kids all looked around wondering who the scientist was. They were a little surprised when I stepped forward. I believe I made an impression on them that day, that a scientist can look like someone's mom, and not always a wild-haired white man in a lab coat. Perhaps they will be more respectful of their female peers who go into STEM fields. Someday, they might support their spouses' career ambitions, whatever they might be. Maybe their younger sisters will hear about so-and-so's mom who is a scientist, and realize that it's something they could do, too. So not only do I get to increase the scientific literacy of these boys, but I also get to set an example for them, as a woman scientist and a working mother.

There was a time I thought that raising a daughter to be a confident, successful scientist would be the best way to help women in science. It's become more and more clear to me that it's just as important to raise sons who respect women, too.