It's time to change the STEM status quo
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Before coming to Congress, I worked as a computer programmer and a systems analyst. I know just how important it is to ensure the next generation is educated in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. However, I've also experienced firsthand the many challenges women face breaking into what has long been considered a male-dominated field.

I've carried my experiences with me to Washington, where I've made it a top priority to help cultivate a passion for STEM in our children because if we hope to meet the challenges of the future, we must change the STEM status quo.

Women today make up less than 20 percent of college students studying computer science, and less than 25 percent of the tech workforce, despite making up half of our overall workforce. This gap is even wider for women of color, who make up less than 10 percent of scientists and engineers in the U.S. Disparities in STEM are depriving our country of talented minds that could be founding the next big startup, creating new breakthrough technologies, or keeping our nation safe from cyberattacks.

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The best way to overcome this gap is by giving all of our children, no matter their gender, race or background, a pathway for success in STEM.

One action I've taken was to introduce the Building Blocks of STEM Act, bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help us close the gender gap in STEM education and our workforce. This bill, which recently passed the Senate, would develop STEM education initiatives at the National Science Foundation for children, including creating new research grants aimed at increasing the participation of young girls in computer science. We must also do more to support programs that provide STEM education opportunities in schools to students from all backgrounds, programs that not only engage female students, but also students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities.

Our country faces a drastic workforce shortage across multiple STEM sectors. One example of this is the high demand for computer science jobs across our nation, with over 480,000 computing positions left unfilled. This void is occurring all across the country, and is even having an effect in my home state of Nevada where there are close to 3,000 unfilled computing jobs. We must work towards addressing this shortage, and encouraging more women to pursue these careers is one way to do that.

STEM education is an area where we can't afford to leave anyone behind. I firmly believe that shining a spotlight on female role-models is one of the best ways we can break the gender stereotype, and that's why each month, my office highlights exceptional women in STEM who have an exciting story to tell or an impressive career path. It is my hope that these women can serve as STEM role models for future generations. By inspiring children to pursue interests in STEM early on, we are instilling in them the curiosity needed to show them that these fields are as equally accessible to them as anyone else.

The challenges that our world will face in the coming years will require bright, forward-thinking young people with a knowledge of science and technology to overcome them. Whether it's confronting the challenges of climate change, curing diseases, or embarking upon interstellar travel, these endeavors will require individuals talented in STEM to make it happen.

If we are going to create the future, then we must break down the barriers that are holding us back from our full potential. We must create a more inclusive STEM field for all, and we can start by changing the STEM status quo.

Rosen is the junior senator from Nevada and formerly worked as a computer programmer and systems analyst.