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Life in Balance: Getting girls into STEM creates more than gender equality

Women make up only 21.6 percent of those working in STEM fields in Idaho. A Boise organization is tacking the gender gap in STEM fields by encouraging more girls to study and enter those career paths.

BOISE, Idaho — There's a push in Idaho to get more young girls interested in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.  in this week's Life in Balance, the movement is about more than creating gender equality.

She Tech is a day-long event at Boise State where 250 high school girls throughout the Treasure Valley are encouraged to touch, explore, interact, and of course, have fun with technology.

"The hope is that the girls leave here with a better understanding of what it means to be an engineer, a scientist, to work in technology," Alecia Hoobing, the co-founder of Women Innovators in Boise.

Women make up only 21.6 percent of those working in STEM fields in Idaho. Of the 333 computer science graduates at Idaho's universities in 2015, only 50 were female, according to Women Innovators website.

"I think that our society has done a disservice to these fields and somehow we've branded them as male-dominated fields. And girls aren't even attracted to them," Hoobing said.

She is working to change that.

"We're really trying to figure out how to re-brand engineering for girls and women. You know they need to see role models and that's why we're here today," Hoobing said.

Events like these aren't just about creating gender equality. STEM professionals will help solve the problems of tomorrow. Hoobing argues without more women in STEM professions, tomorrow's innovations and discoveries can only go so far.

"You know, this morning when I was talking to the girls, I possed the question, 'Do you want your dad, your brother, your boyfriend or your favorite male influence in your life solving all of the world's problems for you? Do they understand your needs entirely?' And there was a resounding, 'No, ew!'" Hoobing said.

It happened last year to FitBit when they came under fire for a flaw in their menstruation tracker on Versa watch, a watch that was supposed to be more female-focused.

Its software limited tracking a menstrual cycle to 10 days leaving one reviewer to write: "Locking the entire female population into a 10 day period makes me wonder how many women were involved in creating this feature... please fix."

"I mean we're the ones that solve these problems so we need a diverse group of people to solve them so we can represent all the different needs and constituents," Hoobing said.

Idaho is making strides in STEM education overall, especially when it comes to computer science. Computing careers are expected to grow by 14 percent over the next five years.

By next year, the state's goal is to offer at least one computer science course for every high schooler in the state, with all middle and elementary schools offered one by 2022, according to Idaho STEM Action Center.

"Really what we're trying to show is that it's for everybody," Hoobing said.

The goal is for young women across Idaho and the Treasure Valley to be part of the problem solvers of tomorrow in all STEM fields.

"I absolutely love math and science so I kind of want to see if I can combine those things and get a degree in engineering," Taylor Lark, a junior at Eagle High School, said.

"Computer science is where I'm going," Emma Pittman, a junior at Meridian Medical Arts Charter said.

Olivia Prezzano, a senior at Bishop Kelley High School, said, "I'm really into biology. So I'm really into the idea of mixing the biological studies and math studies."

Boise State is hosting the Boise Code Camp on Mar. 23, a free event for anyone interested in computer sciences and developers.

Catch up on every Life in Balance segment on YouTube.