Impostors, No More!

Impostors, No More!

Categorized under: computer science education for kids

"If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right." - Henry Ford

According to a review of 308 studies involving over 1.1 million girls and boys from 30 countries, girls have been outperforming boys in all subjects (reading, language, math and science) for nearly a century. Despite their performance, there is a nearly universal belief that boys are better at math & science while girls excel at reading & language. This along with other issues has led to a startling gender gap as it relates to the pursuit of computer science degrees. Currently, women earn just 18% of all undergraduate degrees awarded in computer science. Not only is the relative number low. But, since 2002, computer science is the only field in science, engineering and mathematics where the number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees has declined. Contextually, if you go back to 1985, women earned 37% of undergraduate degrees in computer science. The trend towards women earning degrees in computer science is clearly headed in the wrong direction.  This got me thinking about Impostor Syndrome – feeling of phoniness in people who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite high achievement.  We believe there are structural solutions to this challenge by creating a learning environment that focuses on completion, collaboration and the development of self-confidence.

Getting it done

One of the best ways to show someone that they are capable is to have them complete a task, activity or project. When my wife and I bought our first home, we had no idea how to do home improvement projects. Since, it was our 1st home; we had a fear that we might ruin our living space by doing something wrong. Instead of accepting that belief, we pushed forward. Our 1st project was to rip up all the carpet in our home so that we could have the hardwood floors underneath re-finished. We researched and figured out the tools we would need. And, then we jumped in. A few days later, we had completely removed the old carpet, padding and tack strips. But, even more important, we got our 1st home improvement project done. What we found is that success was right on the other side of our greatest fear….ruining our living space. 

Collaborating with peers

Growing up, we often have the belief that we must be the only responsible for the development of a solution. As we get older, we begin to realize that while there are occasions where we will solely develop a brilliant solution. More often than not, solutions that are truly groundbreaking come from collaborating with others. However, this typically requires the team to trust each other. On teams that trust each other, each team member is comfortable working independently to develop a portion of the solution that is folded into the big picture. On teams that lack trust, each person works independently to develop the entire solution and when they try to bring everything together, there are conflicts because the individual prefers their solution and will fight vigorously to ensure that their path is followed. As you might imagine, teams that collaborate are more solution focused while teams that do not are more individual focused. One of the ways to develop the collaboration muscle is to have individuals works in groups as often as possible. Over time, participants begin to see the value that other team members bring to solution development.

Developing self-confidence

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-confidence is defined as a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities & judgement. The quote from Emerson is such a powerful statement because it highlights the value that self-confidence can have on the life of an individual. Each person has a unique ability to make the world a better place. This gift is what enables some to passionately dive into the challenge of solving really difficult problems. Whether it is Steve Jobs bringing the eye of a designer to technology solutions at Apple or a group of engineers working to save lives by bringing self-driving vehicles to the marketplace, we know that anyone who ever solves a difficult problem had to first develop an internal belief in their ability to do it. One of the most powerful videos that I’ve seen on the subject is by Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy. During a TED Talk, Amy outlines some body language strategies that one can follow to help develop self-confidence.

By proactively focusing on strategies to mitigate or eliminate the Impostor Syndrome, we can best equip the next generation with the skills they need to be successful. What other strategies have you found to be especially helpful when it comes to pushing kids to achieve their potential?

About the Author: Omowale Casselle is the Co-Founder & CEO of Digital Adventures.