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I’m an Engineer and I Love Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. I am Not a Geek

The “geek” language seems to be everywhere when we talk about science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM.

Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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The “geek” language seems to be everywhere when we talk about science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM.

CNN recently had an article titled “5 reasons technology world needs more geek girls.” Best Buy has the Geek Squad in which agents, including the women, wear a masculine and seemingly geeky uniform of a white shirt and tie. In our communities we have Geek Girl Dinners and a Geekbus mobile maker space.

When it comes to engaging and including girls in STEM, the geek language has to go.

We need the next generation of young women to discover their skills and passions and apply them to making our world better through STEM. Why must they be a geek to do this? Why can’t being smart and loving science and math as a girl be normal?

Girls and women with all kinds of skillsets, experiences and interests are needed to solve the grand challenges of our world, not just those who embrace their inner geek.

If a girl identifies with being a geek, she may already be sold on STEM and is part of the 20 percent we are already seeing in our engineering schools.

I want to reach the other 80 percent and show them what an amazing career they can have in engineering and other fields.

If we want to truly embrace diversity and reach gender parity in STEM, we must engage all girls, especially those who don’t identify with being a geek.

Our technology world needs girls who embrace STEM, art, music, media, communications and other disciplines in which problem solving and creativity contribute to solutions.

The White House has “We the Geeks,” an initiative designed to highlight the future of STEM in the U.S. through a series of Google+ Hangouts. “We the Geeks” does not feel like a place to encourage girls to explore STEM and the general public to get excited about what STEM can do to improve our health, happiness and safety.

With a pocket protector logo and a name playing to stereotypes, it furthers the perception that STEM is for the pocket-protector-wearing men and for those who believe they are part of the “we” in the club of the geeks.

This does not match up with the aspirations of the girls I see in precollege and college STEM programs. The geek image also doesn’t match up with the STEM professionals I work with who are fabulous role models and mentors.

STEM role models are critical to excite and engage girls in STEM and to shift the perception of what it means to be a STEM professional away from the stereotype of the mad scientist or the geek.

Role models help show girls that STEM professionals have hobbies and families and lives outside of their challenging and awesome jobs. Through STEM role models, girls see that pocket protectors, lab coats, goggles and crazy hair are not requirements to succeed in these fields.

The Million Women Mentors movement is engaging women across the globe to serve as role models and mentor girls in STEM. It is through organizations such as MentorNet and FabFems that role models can share their experiences, showcase their lives outside of the workplace and connect with girls to excite them about STEM possibilities.

Resources such as EngineerGirl and Engineer Your Life showcase engineering role models and give 10 reasons why you’ll love being an engineer. Guess what? Being seen as a geek is not one of the reasons.

None of these organizations uses the geek language to describe its amazing STEM role models and mentors. Yet all of them recognize the importance diverse role models have in engaging girls in the future of STEM. Role models change perceptions.

To imagine and create the solutions that will make our world safer, healthier and happier, we must engage everyone all girls and all boys in STEM. It’s time to disband the club of the geeks.

Named one of the 100 Women Leaders in STEM by STEMconnector, Tricia Berry leads efforts to recruit and graduate women in the Cockrell School of Engineering as director of the Women in Engineering Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

A version of this op-ed appeared in the Washington Post and Houston Chronicle.

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To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.

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Texas Perspectives is a wire-style service produced by The University of Texas at Austin that is intended to provide media outlets with meaningful and thoughtful opinion columns (op-eds) on a variety of topics and current events. Authors are faculty members and staffers at UT Austin who work with University Communications to craft columns that adhere to journalistic best practices and Associated Press style guidelines. The University of Texas at Austin offers these opinion articles for publication at no charge. Columns appearing on the service and this webpage represent the views of the authors, not of The University of Texas at Austin.

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