Dart Scholar Diandra Whittaker took part in the 2017 MI Academy Naval Architecture & Marine Engineering Summer Camp.

STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. These subjects are interwoven in everything today's students do and learn — and more importantly, they have a role to play in every industry and every career: from art — the impact of arts learning on the ability of the brain to remember, for example — to health, and the ability of an app to interpret data and determine whether breast tissue samples are benign or malignant.

Brittany Wenger was a self-taught coder whose cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer when Brittany was 15 years old. Prior to learning of her cousin’s condition, her coding was limited to simple programs she would build in her free time. Inspired to use her hobby to make a positive impact for families affected by the disease, Brittany spent a year and half developing Cloud4Cancer using breast cancer data she found online.

Cloud4Cancer is a revolutionary digital app that has been proven to be 99 per cent effective at detecting breast cancer. The app uses neural networks, coding that mimics the human brain, to interpret data about cancer cells and determines whether breast tissue samples are benign or malignant.

Brittany, and girls like her, are a distinct minority in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. In fact, women account for less than a third of scientific research and development professionals worldwide and are more likely than men to leave their careers within the first ten years according to a report by Catalyst.org. Even though women have taken the lead in university enrolment rates, there is still a significant difference between the number of male and female STEM degree earners. With young women like Brittany proving that they can be successful, it brings into question why more aren’t choosing science, technology, engineering or mathematics as careers.

One major reason is known as the “confidence gap,” the difference in male and female self-perception of their STEM abilities. Generally, men are more likely to attribute failure to lack of effort, while women will say they failed because they were incapable. A study conducted by Penn State University found that the confidence gap can be closed if more girls are given more experience with STEM activities earlier, are able to share those experiences with peers, and are given positive affirmation about their STEM abilities by parents and teachers. The study also encourages educators to teach female students how to control the physiological reaction to math and science — the anxiety they may feel during testing, for example — as a way to bolster their self-efficacy.

The Dart Scholar programme currently has ten female scholars — all of whom are either pursuing STEM- related degrees or are currently excelling in their STEM courses. These exceptional young women have already played a part in closing the confidence gap in their schools and local community.