On January 8 the AAUW St. Augustine (FL) Branch held a panel presentation on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to examine why fewer women than men enter these fields and how to overcome this challenge. Local STEM professionals participated in the panel, including Gail Cullum, an adjunct professor from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who also teaches college courses at the St. Johns County Aerospace Academy; Carrie E. A. Grant, associate professor in mathematics in the Math, Science, and Technology Department at Flagler College; and branch member Amy Myers, an environmental compliance officer at the Seminole Electric Cooperative.
The branch pledged at their state meeting to make STEM a priority in their local community work. This panel was an opportunity to talk about STEM and get the community involved. Overall, there were 45 people in attendance, an “excellent turnout,” according to branch STEM Coordinator Gerry Linton.
All the women on the panel talked about going through the educational world in various areas of STEM and working their way into professional fields. Many of the panelists described being one of few women in their classes, and only one had a female mentor who helped her through the challenges of being a minority in that environment. All the panel participants except one had fathers who were in STEM fields and encouraged them to enter these educational and career tracks. Myers, originally from Puerto Rico, credited her grandmother with encouraging her interest and letting her know that she could be anything she wanted to be.
To bring more girls into STEM fields, the women on the panel recommended that girls be encouraged at a young age to think about STEM careers as a possibility and that parents be included in the discussion. To help achieve this goal and nurture girls’ interest in STEM, a local philanthropist with a foundation in the St. Augustine area volunteered to give a local school $500 to create an after-school information technology program for girls.
Other AAUW Florida branches have held STEM events this year, including Girls Go Green in July, where girls visited the greenest home in the country in Florida’s Brevard County to learn about conservation in the home through storm water management, cisterns, and green roofs.
The St. Augustine branch is committed to holding at least two more STEM events in the near future, one to disseminate information on the AAUW research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and another targeted at parents on how to be supportive of girls who choose to go into STEM fields. One easy way for parents and kids to work on STEM outside of school is to visit www.howtosmile.org, a free clearinghouse of informal learning activities.