Michelle Obama’s 5 Greatest Contributions to Women in STEM

Michelle Obama Education Initiatives

How the First Lady Is Campaigning to Improve Education Opportunities Around the World

In a world where education means power, Michelle Obama is empowering America’s youth in the truest sense of the word. The First Lady has launched a series of education-based initiatives–some specifically targeting girls, while others are more general–that have increased educational opportunities, access, and success.

She is a hero here at Shenova, as she stands for many of the things we value too.

She is not only outspoken about her passion for education, but she has made a real, lasting difference in the lives of thousands. Through her initiatives, the First Lady has not only increased women’s access to STEM-related careers, she has also implemented campaigns that have increased retention rates within STEM fields. Below are five of Michelle Obama’s education-based initiatives that Shenova considers to be some of her greatest contributions to women in STEM:

Initiative 1: Let Girls Learn

After meeting Malala Yousafzai, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let Girls Learn in March of 2015. In conjunction with the President, the First Lady has fought to combat the fact that 62 million girls do not currently have access to education. The Let Girls Learn campaign is specifically targeted at young women and addresses a range of challenges that prevent adolescent girls from attaining quality education. With the goal of empowering these girls to reach their full potential, the initiative  combines political will, diplomacy, and development expertise to foster grassroots organizing that creates lasting change. Using a holistic approach to change the perception of girls at the individual, community, and institutional levels, Let Girls Learn bolsters existing programs and invests in new efforts to expand educational opportunities–including in areas in conflict and crisis.  

“I see myself in these girls — in their ambition and their determination to rise above their circumstances.” –First Lady Michelle Obama

With programs in more than 50 countries, Let Girls Learn has vastly increased resources to improve the lives of adolescent girls worldwide through a wide array of public-private partnerships. Countries like the U.K., Japan, and South Korea have also joined the cause, collectively pledging more the $600 million. Additionally, social media campaigns related to the initiative such as #LetGirlsLearn and #62MillionGirls have a had immense success increasing global awareness and involvement.

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Michelle Obama in classroom 

 

Initiative 2: NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative

A  STEM-focused campaign, the National Science Foundation’s Career-Life Balance Initiative is a ten year plan that provides greater work-related flexibility to men and women in STEM. As the leading source of Federal grants for fields that are critical to technology development and job creation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) is especially crucial for the development of the fields of computer science and mathematics.

“We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.” –First Lady Michelle Obama

Currently women earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, yet make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty in those fields. Additionally, reducing the dropout rate of women in STEM is particularly important because these women earn 33% more than those in non-STEM occupations and the wage gap between men and women in STEM careers is substantially smaller than in other fields. The Career-Life Balance Initiative provides a coherent and consistent set of family-friendly policies to help eliminate the obstacles women face in terms of advancement and retention in STEM careers.

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Michelle Obama and Dr Biden at Joining Forces event

Initiative 3: Joining Forces

The Joining Forces campaign is a nationwide initiative calling all Americans to rally around service members, veterans, and their families. A shared cause launched in 2011 by Dr. Jill Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama, Joining Forces gives more students at public high schools that serve high percentage of military families access to Advanced Placement (AP) coursework, particularly in math and science. Through wellness, education, and employment opportunities, the initiatives works with both the public and private sectors to ensure that these students have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives.

On average, military children attend six to nine different school systems. These transitions are often rocky, as they face administrative, academic, and extracurricular challenges. Additionally, more than 1 million service members are expected to return home in the next year, many of whom wish to pursue higher education. Joining Forces builds upon the Administration’s 8 Keys to Success in order to support children by helping schools become more responsive to their unique needs, as well as by providing more academic opportunities.

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Michelle Obama with students

Initiative 4: Reach Higher

The Reach Higher Initiative is First Lady Michelle Obama’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school. Whether at a professional training program, community college, or four-year university, the campaign seeks to achieve the “North Star” goal–a hope that by 2020 America will once again have the highest proportion of colleges graduates in the world.

Reach Higher was first launched in 2014, and since its inception the campaign has exposed thousands of students to college and career opportunities, encouraged academic planning, supported high school counselor, and aided in the understanding of financial aid eligibility. This campaign has created a strong framework to help young people commit to higher education, share their stories, and inspire others to reach higher.

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 Michelle Obama and the Better Make Room Initiative

Initiative 5: Better Make Room

Part of the Reach Higher campaign, the First Lady’s Better Make Room initiative was launched in 2015 and is a peer-to-peer public awareness campaign explicitly directed at Generation Z (14-19 year olds). In celebration of education, the initiative is an encouragement-based model aimed at changing the national dialogue about education. It strives to reach students directly and present them with a space to create content and navigate the college-going process.

Better Make Room leverages traditional and new media platforms to commend and praise student’s stories in order to inspire others. In a world where fame means followers, this initiative highlights the possibility of better education, better careers, and better futures by changing the dialogue about success–shifting if away from celebrities and towards the celebration of academic achievements.

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These are just 5 reasons why we love Michelle Obama. She has created a lasting legacy for women in STEM –a legacy that empowers them to reach their full potential and Shenova could not be more grateful.  

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Kate Wisialowski
Kate Wisialowski

Author

Kate Wisialowski is a UC Berkeley graduate currently working in Public Relations. Involved with Bay Area startups, as well as non-profit organizations, she is also a freelance writer and creative consultant.



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