New Jersey’s first lady encourages girls to pursue STEM careers

At the chemistry lab building at Princeton University, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy was talking about this year’s Young Women Conference. It’s an event to encourages more girls to go into science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields. It’s something the first lady says is very important to her.

“I think it’s a problem across the state in terms of getting people into STEM overall, so I love the fact that they’re doing this here,” Murphy said.

Numbers from New Jersey show out of about 327,000 STEM jobs in the state, only 25 percent are filled by women. If you break that number down by profession, 25 percent of people who work in computer science and mathematics are women, just 11 percent in engineering and surveying, 49 percent in physical and life science and 22.8 percent are STEM managers.

“In seeing the female scientists and engineers that are here, we think they can kind of visualize themselves in that position,” said Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory program administrator Deedee Ortiz.

Statistics show it’s been a male-dominated career. Nationally, only 28 percent of women work in science and engineering fields.

“On a society level, it’s not something that you’re really guided toward. And then even when you do get in the field, it’s hard,” said Nicole Allen, a mechanical engineer at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Allen says when she was in college, she was one of only three or four women in her class. It was the same for engineer Alex Abad. She was one of the few young women in mechanical engineering at her college.

“A lot of people tend to steer men toward these types of fields, so even from a young age. One of the reasons I actually got into robotics is because my brother had a lot of Lego sets growing up but he didn’t know how to do them, so I was the older sister so I was the one who would put them all together and he’d just play with it,” Abad said.

“That’s what happens in a lot of these teams, the boys push the girls to do the administrative work. You can say, ‘no, I know the programming, and I know what’s involved and I know what to do,'” said Girl Scouts volunteer Kathleen Moriarty.

“I think this is a really cool experience and it’s definitely a great way to get girls into the science world to show boys that it’s not just for them,” said eighth grade student Danielle Cruz.

“I feel that it’s very empowering to see different people in so many different fields doing so many great things,” said 10th grade student Natalia Diaz.

Diaz says at her school she notices more girls interested in science, a possible sign of what’s to come.

“The fact that so many girls are interested in coming to an event like this just tells it all,” said Ortiz. “The demand is overwhelming for them to be here. We have hundreds of girls on the waitlist that couldn’t make it in because the event just filled up.”

Allen and Abad are both here to show those young women girls what can be done.

“These are the types of events I went to when I went to high school, so it’s nice to be on the other side of things,” Allen said.