There are many factors that can be associated with fewer women in "STEM" (science-technology-engineering-math) fields. Lack of opportunity and financial incentive can influence a woman’s decision to enter into a STEM program. With fewer women in predominantly male fields, women who are interested in a STEM career may think twice about continuing on as they do not have fellow female peers to encourage them.

The most influential factors behind fewer women in STEM programs are the stereotypes that have been applied to women for centuries. Some of these stereotypes include “women aren’t good at math,” “women cannot raise a family and have a successful career,” and the most damaging, “girls create drama.” Because these notions exist and are so prevalent in our society, it is hard to find solutions. The key to diminishing, if not eradicating these stereotypes, is education.

For almost 10 years now, members of Soroptimist International (SI) Ashland have mentored girls at Helman School by creating and maintaining the Soroptimist Strong Women Strong Girls program, which includes monthly Lunch Buddies, after-school STEM classes and field trips to small businesses and services with women leaders.

SI Ashland is just one club among many SI clubs with 70,000 members in 125 countries that empower women and girls to live their dreams through education and empowerment. Soroptimist International is represented in the United Nations.

Locally, SI Ashland works to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. They do this by providing annual academic, vocational and athletic scholarships and awards to women and high school girls from Ashland and Phoenix high schools, Rogue Community College, Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. All of these efforts are designed to meet our mission in ways that support our values, which are as follows:

• Gender Equality: Women and girls live free from discrimination.

• Empowerment: Women and girls are free to act in their own best interest.

• Education: Women and girls deserve to lead full and productive lives through access to education.

• Diversity & Fellowship: Women from varied backgrounds and perspectives work together to improve the lives of women and girls.

SI Ashland members come from many occupations, including the health, real estate, finance, law enforcement, insurance, education, retail, marketing, research, the nonprofits, SOU students, and more. Members of SI Ashland continue to do this work because they gain satisfaction from knowing they are making a difference and having a positive impact on the lives of women and girls in their community and beyond.

SI Ashland welcomes new members who are interested in the big picture, creating a better life for those in the community and the world. They meet every Wednesday at noon at Casa del Pueblo. For more information about SI Ashland, you may contact President Janie Burcart by emailing siashland@soroptimist.net.

—Soroptimist Report appears quarterly in the Tidings. For more, go to www.soroptimistrv.org/siashland.html, call Janie Burcart at 541-910-0235 or email siashland@soroptimist.net.