One Secret to Engaging More Girls in STEM: Guest Post by Donna Milgram of IWITTS

Would you like to learn a critical strategy for engaging more girls in STEM? This is one of the 18 recruitment secrets I teach STEM educators all over the country in my online and in-person WomenTech Educators Trainings. The secret may surprise you:  To engage more girls in STEM we need to appeal to what interests female students.

So, what does it look like when STEM subjects are taught in a way that appeals to girls? Males and females—overall as a group—often have a different learning style, and what appeals to and engages them in STEM can be different (Margolis & Fisher, 2001). For example, research shows that as a group, women and girls care more about how STEM will be used to make a difference in the world, such as using engineering to make prostheses, while men and boys are often fascinated with the technology itself (Extraordinary Women Engineers Project, 2005). These differences have implications for both teaching and lab activities in the classroom and are also important for how you recruit female students to STEM. The best way to attract girls to STEM classes is to emphasize how those skills help others and to focus on teamwork and collaboration.

The award-winning PBS television series and educational initiative SciGirls draws on cutting-edge research about what engages girls in STEM learning to teach science inquiry and engineering design. SciGirls has reached over 14 million girls and families, making it the most widely accessed girls’ STEM program available. So how does SciGirls teach STEM? Let’s watch a clip from Robots to the Rescue where real-life SciGirls learn how to program a rescue robot with human-like traits so it can better communicate with rescue victims in a disaster.

Click here to watch a clip from the SciGirls episode “Robots to the Rescue.”

So after watching that clip can you see how more women and girls might be interested in STEM if it were taught this way? SciGirls features groups of real middle-school-age girls doing all sorts of science investigations and engineering projects from programming rescue robots to building underwater robots, and from engineering a giant mechanical puppet to designing high-tech fashions. The SciGirls TV shows are available in DVD format with accompanying classroom activities via our organization’s website (more video clips are available on IWITTS website), and they align with national education standards including: the Next Generation Science Standards for Grades 3 through 8, the Standards for Technological Literacy, and the Common Core Mathematics Standards. Most importantly SciGirls show us how appealing to girls’ interests can get girls excited about STEM and keep them engaged.

Want more proven strategies on how to increase female enrollment in STEM classes and improve completion rates for female and male students in STEM? Here are 3 ways to get more strategies:

  1. Download this free report I wrote on: How to Recruit Women and Girls to the STEM Classroom.
  2. Visit IWITTS’s Proven Practices Collection to browse over a 100 journal articles, papers, webinars and proven practice case studies free for STEM educators.
  3. Attend a WomenTech Educators Training in-person or online and develop your own easy-to-implement Recruitment and/or Retention Plan.

Donna Milgram is the Executive Director and founder of the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science (IWITTS), a national nonprofit organization based in Alameda, CA. Ms. Milgram has been the Principal Investigator of four National Science Foundation (NSF) Projects. The CalWomenTech Project was highlighted by NSF for demonstrating significant achievement and program effectiveness. Find more information about IWITTS at or at You can also contact Ms. Milgram directly with any questions.




Extraordinary Women Engineers Project. (2005, April). Extraordinary Women Engineers. Retrieved May 27, 2014, from Engineer Your Life

Margolis, J., & Fisher, A. (2001). Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing. Cambridge: The MIT Press.