I swear they didn't get it from me, but my daughters are mega math-haters.

Recently, my 13-year-old expressed her displeasure with her algebra homework, finally exclaiming, "Ugh, I hate math!"

Thankfully, her 17-year-old sister — who has declared her hatred for math many times herself — came to the rescue.


"Ella, you know what helps me lately when I get annoyed with my math homework?" she said. "I just picture Shuri in 'Black Panther.' She does math all day long, and she's awesome."

Squeee! God bless you, Marvel.

My girls have always been more interested in writing poetry than working out math problems, so I love that they find teen tech whiz Shuri inspiring. But there are a lot of girls out there who are math-, science-, and engineering-minded who have an uphill road ahead of them.

Actress Letitia Wright plays Shuri in "Black Panther." Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images.

Despite years of pushing for gender parity in the workplace, women are still greatly underrepresented in STEM careers.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce evaluated the status of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers and found that even though women represented 48% of the overall workforce, they only represented 24% of STEM careers.

In 2017, they did the same evaluation. That time, they found that even though women represented 47% of the workforce, they only represented — wait for it — 24% of STEM careers.

In other words, the needle has barely moved for women in STEM in recent years.

But that doesn't mean things aren't changing for the next generation. As we're seeing with gun control, children and teens can be the ones to make big waves and change the tide on issues that affect them.

Of course, kids need tools and opportunity to make those waves. Thankfully, there are ways to help the future Shuris of the world get the hands-on STEM experience they need to make dreams a reality. Check out these five cool STEM initiatives by and for girls:

1. Project Upgrade YouTube series

Project Upgrade is a new digital build series — where digital technologies are used to create something — starring popular teen YouTubers the Merrell twins. The series was created to inspire more young women across America to pursue a career in STEM.

On the show, the twins team up with teen female coders, builders, and engineers as well as successful female mentors from across STEM career fields (including NASA, Disney Imagineering, and Google). Together, they design, build, and test a new consumer product in front of a live audience of girls. The series started March 10, 2018, and you can check out a preview on Veronica and Vanessa's YouTube channel:

2. Girls Who Code summer programs

For several years, Girls Who Code has hosted seven-week summer immersion program for 10th- and 11th-grade girls, and now they're offering a new summer program called Campus that consists of two-week intensive summer courses for middle and high school girls who want to learn to program.

Campus will be offered at high schools and colleges across six U.S. cities and will include classes for website design and development, wearable tech and fashion design, and iPhone app development. And as part of the program's commitment to inclusion and diversity, 20% of Campus seats will be held for need-based scholarship students.

3. Black Girls Code

Black Girls Code is "devoted to showing the world that black girls can code and do so much more." Based in San Francisco, the nonprofit recognizes the distinct racial divide in the tech sector — and the opportunities careers in STEM can offer underprivileged communities — so they focus on promoting classes and programs to grow the number of women of color working in technology. They host "hackathons" for girls ages 12 to 17, where participants work in teams to create solutions for social issues in their communities by building apps, games, and tools centered around a specific theme. They also focus on creativity, teamwork, and confidence in the tech world.

4. The "Invent it. Build It." conference

"Invent it. Build it." (IBII) is an annual conference put on by the Society of Women Engineers. It includes programming for girls in sixth grade and up — as well as educators — to spur interest and engagement in STEM activities. Students get to do hands-on engineering projects with experienced mentors while educators learn more about how to help girls prepare for engineering careers. The 2018 IBII conference will be in Minneapolis on Oct. 18.

Check out this video from the 2017 IBII conference to learn more about it:

5. Million Women Mentors

Girls interested in STEM can benefit greatly from experienced mentors offering them encouragement, advice, and inspiration. Million Women Mentors offers just that. The movement supports millions of mentors — both female and male — who help increase the interest and confidence of girls and women in STEM projects and careers. Individuals and organizations create a one- to four-year pledge to mentor a girl or woman in STEM for 20 hours a year.

Show your teens what these mentors said they'd have told their 15-year-old selves:

These are just some of the many great programs out there helping girls build on their math and science knowledge. Girls and young women need opportunities and encouragement to become the STEM giants we know they can be.

Who knows, maybe these kinds of initiatives combined with greater representation can help girls like my daughters decide that they don't hate math after all.

Can you imagine anything more badass than a world filled with Shuris? I can't.

GIF from "Black Panther."

I'll say this up front so that there's zero confusion: Child sex trafficking is real, it's heinous, and it's been going on for a long time. Everyone who buys or sells a child or partakes in harming a child in any way should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. There is no place in civil society for people who sexually abuse children or who profit off of the abuse of children. Full stop. No question.

But we have careened into some twisted waters in our social discourse around child sex trafficking, to the point where the real issue of is being conflated with outrageous conspiracy theories that deflect from the real work being done to save children, put innocent people in harm's way, and interfere with the integrity of our elections.

I wrote about this issue recently and was met with accusations of being paid off by powerful pedophiles (ugh, seriously?), a flood of people saying "No, you're wrong!" while offering zero evidence, and a bunch of YouTube and Facebook videos that people seem to think are credible sources. I got fake screenshots of supposed Wikileaks emails that aren't actually on Wikileaks when you search for them. I got people who only listen to fringe outlets that have no oversight or accountability claiming that my well-cited, real news sources were a part of the whole conspiracy. All of that stuff I could ignore. Whackadoodles are gonna whackadoodle no matter how many facts you throw at them.

But I also got a few people sharing a list of nearly 100 politicians and other powerful people who have been convicted of child sex crimes. That was different, because it was factual.

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