STEM Girls Social Network holds a robotics class for girls.

What do you get when you cross the Girl Scouts, Facebook and female role models working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? Oak Park resident Miesha Williamson, 29, hopes the answer is a sea change in the way girls view careers in STEM.

Williamson, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from University of Michigan in 2008, launched STEM Girls Social Network earlier this year to give young girls role models and mentors to help them envision themselves pursuing careers in the male-dominated fields.

The social network offers online STEM classes taught by women. In addition to the online network, Williamson has held STEM after-school classes for girls and forums for women seeking to be involved in STEM. Additionally, she’s launched a online fundraiser to help get her venture off the ground.

Williams says seeing a handful of women in engineering succeed when she was a child inspired her to follow in their footsteps. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space, was Williamsons’ inspiration, and she says Jemison was inspired by another — albeit fictional — black woman in space.

“Jemison was a black girl from the South Side of Chicago raised by a teacher just like me. I knew that if she reached for the stars, I could as well,” Williamson said in her video. “Mae Jemison credits her ability to see herself in space by watching Star Trek, where she saw actress Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Lieutenant Uhura.”

Williamson said in a telephone interview that women only make up about 7 percent of the workforce in mechanical engineering, and only about 3 percent of science, engineering and technology jobs are filled by black women.

“How can girls be what they cannot see?” Williamson asked.

A report by the U.S. Census Bureau confirms that women, African Americans and Hispanics have been historically and consistently underrepresented in STEM fields.

“In 2011, 11 percent of the workforce was black, while 6 percent of STEM workers were black (up from 2 percent in 1970). Although the Hispanic share of the workforce has increased significantly from 3 percent in 1970 to 15 percent in 2011, Hispanics were 7 percent of the STEM workforce in 2011,” the 2013 report states.

The report also notes that as of 2011 “men are employed in a STEM occupation at twice the rate of women: 31 percent compared with 15 percent.”

Women made up 26 percent of workers in all STEM fields as of 2011, with women representing “13 percent of engineers, 27 percent of computer professionals, 41 percent of life and physical scientists, 47 percent of mathematical workers and 61 percent of social scientists,” according to the report.

Williamson said she got the idea for STEM Girls Social Network while tutoring girls after school and learning that practically none of them were interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields. She said she wants to give girls role models in an after-school club like the Girl Scouts, but for computer coding and robotics.

In the years since she has graduated, Williamson said she has never worked with another female engineer. She said that although she has never experienced outright discrimination in the workplace, the experience has been “very isolating.”

STEM Girls Social Network held is most recent class on April 25 in Oak Park, focusing on computer programming, and Williamson said the next one is set for May 16. She hopes to attract volunteers to the group who will offer weekly programming for after school classes — two a month in coding and two in robotics.

More information is available on Williamson’s website at

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