Your Turn: What Makes For A Great Role Model?
I want to share with you two thoughtful reader responses to my post from earlier today, “How To Choose A Role Model Who Will Really Motivate You.” First, Brian Fox:
“This part [of your post] got me thinking: ‘But when the researchers exposed middle-school girls to women who were feminine and successful in STEM fields, the experience actually diminished the girls’ interest in math, depressed their plans to study math, and reduced their expectations of future success. The women’s “combination of femininity and success seemed particularly unattainable to STEM-disidentified girls,” the authors conclude, adding that “gender-neutral STEM role models,” as well as feminine women who were successful in non-STEM fields, did not have this effect.’
We run a ‘Women in Engineering’ breakfast each year and we invite in parents and community members who are women in various fields of engineering. They speak to our 8th grade girls about their experiences in the field and how they got to where they are at. If this does in fact have a negative effect on middle school girls then I am actually doing them a disservice according to this article. Very interesting food for thought. Certainly making me think. Then again, how do we encourage the girls if we cannot hold up some role models for them to show them that they may indeed find success?”
Here’s my response:
Brian, thank you for your thoughtful comments. In regard to your question—maybe the women you bring in to speak could talk about some of the obstacles they faced, setbacks they overcame, mistakes they made etc.—so that the girls feel that they are relatable and not too “perfect” and inaccessible?
And second, here’s reader Mary Reilley Clark:
“Perhaps we overestimate students’ ability to identify with people skilled in various fields because we don’t show the steps on how to reach that level. I don’t arrange speakers at my middle school, but such events are often held in the library where I work. I’ve observed students are most attentive when we have high school and college students speak to them. People talking about careers may spark an interest for some students, but for many, the best role model may be someone who is just a step ahead. When a child will be the first in her family to attend college, she needs someone who speaks about high school course selection, extracurricular activities that help with college acceptance, etc. Businesses use just in time inventory methods. Maybe we need to look at just a step ahead role models.”
I love Mary’s idea of “just a step ahead” role models. Brilliant readers, have you ever felt more intimidated than encouraged by a potential role model? Who have you found to be a “just right” role model—accessible and yet still inspiring? Please share your thoughts!