So I just wrote a paper for class on geek girls and STEM careers, which addressed the perceptions of geeks in popular culture as well as the perception of scientists, engineers, etc., all together creating a deterrent for women to get into these fields of work. It was awesome to explore this topic since it all coalesces to create an ill-structured problem for colleges and universities since more and more women are graduating college (more than men these days) but still more men are graduating with STEM related majors. I sought to figure out why women may not persist and what we can do it about on our campuses.
So the stereotypes of nerds, dorks, dweebs, and geeks are well known; awkward, pale, skinny, poindexters who are lonely and uncool. This perception is compounded by the idea of scientists who work in lab alone somewhere working on arbitrary tasks with no lives and are also most often portrayed as male. A big part of my paper focused on an awareness of these false stereotypes and why they persist. A big issue in the geek spheres is the contention over popular shows like Big Bang Theory, which is a mockery of nerds but at least puts characters in the limelight on network television. I'd far prefer people watch things like the new movie Zero Charisma. It is a far better look at the current nerd culture, and laughs with us rather than at us.
With the media influencing perceptions as well as not being in positive learning environments with proper support and role models, women typically don't persist in STEM. What we can do in college student affairs is encourage living-learning communities for these geek girls looking to get into the great work of STEM fields. It is important and crucial work in these fields and we need every able body at the table solving the problems of the day. Living-Learning communities have been proven to be an excellent tool to help women persist in this challenging landscape.
The image above is from an event we had this past year at Rutgers, Geek Week, which had a "Nerd Girl Panel" which hopefully inspired some attendees to either keep on their studies despite the difficulties or perhaps be an ally to someone who is working against the cultural grain. I hope we can keep giving folks a sense of belonging this upcoming year with the third year of Geek Week.