Figures released on the opening day in Cork yesterday of the massive I Wish STEM showcase for female second-level students showed that almost half of the teenagers who attended last year’s event were persuaded to change their minds afterwards and pick STEM subjects for the leaving cert.
“And we’re really proud of that,” said I Wish co-founder, Caroline O’Driscoll.
Niamh Crowley, a student at St Angela’s College, said attending the event and meeting female role models was inspiring.
“There is a stereotype that STEM is only for boys. But that is 100% wrong, because if you have a goal, and you put your mind to it, you can definitely achieve it,” she said.
The school’s TY co-ordinator, Sinead O’Donovan, said I Wish provides students with an invaluable opportunity to see the possibilities and potential, which would enable them to make informed subject choices.
Ms O’Driscoll accepted that more needs to be done to ensure that the tide turns fully on the entrenched stereotypical attitudes towards girls and STEM subjects and careers.
“Less than 25% of the STEM workforce are women and that hasn’t changed in about 10 years. It’s glacial,” she said. “We also see it at leadership level, so there are problems. But I have seen the dial change. We are talking about it more, and we need to see it coming through in the numbers.
“But we have been able to prove that if a girl attends three or more extra curricular STEM events, she’s 30% more likely to chose two STEM subjects to leaving cert. We are giving these girls the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in STEM. We’re about presenting the choices, and letting them choose.”
More than 5,000 female transition-year students, and 272 teachers from 133 schools from 19 counties will attend the I Wish event which finishes in Cork today, and will take place in Dublin’s RDS next Monday and Tuesday. Attendees heard talks from female role models working in Facebook, Google, Twitter, J&J, and Arup.
Jacqueline Elebert, an advertising operations specialist at Twitter’s European headquarters in Dublin, urged students to be open-minded: “My advice to students is to be open to learning, to working hard, and don’t limit yourself.”
Stryker, Dell EMC, Johnson & Johnson were among those with stands at the event, which also featured, for the first time, a teacher zone to help teachers make STEM subjects more interesting.
A survey last year found that 94% of students are influenced by how a subject is taught, with 75% of teachers saying they would like more STEM training. Ms O’Driscoll said providing the teachers with support would not just inspire their current students, but future students too.
I Wish was set up in Cork in 2015 by Ms O’Driscoll, a tax partner at KPMG, solicitor Gillian Keating, and Ruth Buckley, head of IT at Cork City Council. The initiative has won several awards for inspiring female students to pursue careers in STEM.