Girls the key to powering America’s STEM future (opinion)

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Sylvia Acevedo

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, left, and Sylvia Acevedo

New technology and scientific innovations make our world more connected and more competitive, and it isn’t just scientists and the experts in Silicon Valley who are noticing these changes. As a U.S. senator from Nevada and the CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, we have seen firsthand how technology is changing the fabric of our everyday lives and increasing the competitiveness of American businesses in towns and cities across the U.S. We need to ensure we can keep our competitive edge and secure the United States’ position as a leader in the 21st century economy. And in that regard, we have a secret weapon — American girls. Girl Scouts of the USA knows that girls are capable of anything they set their minds to. For more than 100 years, Girl Scouts has fostered the incredible potential of girls to accomplish amazing feats in technology and innovation, from earning the first badges in electrical circuitry in the early 20th century, to the efforts of today’s Girl Scouts to build prosthetic limbs, design software, and excel in FIRST Robotics competitions. With the right combination of encouragement, guidance, training, and self-confidence, girls can grow into strong female leaders. When young girls see women making great strides in STEM fields, they see a path for themselves as well. In fact, one of the best things we can do to ensure our country remains a leader in technology and innovation is investing in girls, specifically in their education and leadership development. The leaders they become bring invaluable perspective to any professional environment: the board room, the courtroom, the laboratory, the classroom, the halls of Congress, and beyond. Gender balance in the workplace and in the public sector is vital to ensuring every American’s voice is heard. If you want proof, look no further than the performance of male-dominated corporate boards compared to boards with a greater gender mix. In Nevada, business leaders are already sounding the alarm about the shortage of qualified STEM workers. A recent study published by the Nevada STEM Coalition asserts that the majority of Nevada’s nine key industries require STEM skills, yet lack qualified workers to fill job vacancies. It is our country’s girls and young women who hold the key to filling this need. According to a September 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, just one in five undergraduates of the engineering school at the University of Nevada were women, even though young girls and young boys express similar interest in STEM until middle school. Discouraging girls from pursuing careers in the STEM fields, whether consciously or through a lack of support for girls interested in math and science, is a loss to our entire country. Creating more female STEM leaders in Nevada, and across America, means starting young and making sure that today’s girls are developing the confidence, leadership, and technical education they need to be visionary leaders in 21st century STEM fields. That’s why Girl Scouts — the largest girl leadership development organization in the world — has partnered with companies like Palo Alto Networks, which recently helped Girl Scouts launch brand new STEM programs that award girls badges in cybersecurity, and Raytheon, which is sponsoring an exciting new computer science program for girls. Other prominent Girl Scout partners include, the SETI Institute, and NASA, which hosts STEM programming events for girls as young as five and continuing through high school. In Congress, female leaders are also working hard to ensure our government is supporting such programming. In the Senate, we have introduced, supported, and fought for the Code Like A Girl Act in partnership with Nevada Congresswoman (and computer scientist) Jacky Rosen in the House. This effort would fund two National Science Foundation grant programs encouraging girls to pursue crucial education in computer science, STEM, and STEAM, including through identifying more mentors and addressing potential bias early in girls’ education. Yet there’s still more we can do. According to research, Girl Scouts are much more likely than non-Girl Scouts to participate in STEM activities (60 percent versus 35 percent) — and 77 percent of girls say that because of Girl Scouts they’re considering a career in technology. More than ever, we need to encourage our young women and listen to their experiences and insight, to power our world with their bold ideas. To propel America’s economy, our technology, and our girls’ futures, we must bring about gender equity in STEM in Nevada and throughout America. We must actively support girls in pursuing their STEM passions and give them the tools to do it. We must show girls that their contributions are sought, valued, and important — and that they are as strong, smart, and capable as boys. U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) and Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA, submitted this column to the NNBV. Visit or to learn more about Girl Scouts of the USA.


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