After months of planning, the Indiana Girls Collaborative Project overcame numerous obstacles — such as having a limited number of volunteers, locating a venue, and obtaining commitments from relevant speakers — to hold its annual conference on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, on September 22.
As the AAUW liaison, I was able to appreciate how the spirit of collaboration prevailed, enabling the Indiana Leadership Team and Champions Board to hold its third statewide conference. Being a part of this effort demonstrated to me that collaboration around science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) has the potential for bringing together an array of individuals who may have never met or imagined new ways of working together.
The net was cast widely across Indiana and brought together formal and informal educators from middle and high schools, colleges and universities, nonprofit directors and staff, and foundation, government, and business leaders. Planners, presenters, and attendees (a total of 78) participated as listeners and contributors during a full day of sessions focused on gender equity, closing the education gap, STEM programs and projects serving girls, funding, resources, and reaching underserved girls.
The conference was an intense seminar filled with lots of new, interesting, and exciting information. I observed the audience becoming more engaged after hearing the multiple speakers and panel presentations that generated comments, questions, and brainstorming ideas from the interactions and connections made. There was definitely a buzz in the room that continued throughout the day, including during the speed-networking activity I facilitated. Each pair of participants introduced themselves, their projects, and their needed resources then switched and moved on, forming a new conversation. Each person gave her best two-to-three minute elevator speech and collected business cards from potential future collaborators. In the midst of this, I heard someone call out to the crowd that they had made a collaboration on the spot! This was a perfect motivator to encourage the group to pursue new conversations.
The best part of the day was meeting local university student volunteers — young women who have ventured into the STEM fields and expressed their excitement for the careers they will be entering. I was moved by a Latina senior whose family emigrated from Honduras when she was in elementary school. She is majoring in chemical engineering and spoke positively about her father’s support and her college experiences and internships. Many other student volunteers engaged in informal conversations and answered our questions about how they chose their particular STEM majors. We heard stories about how they were supported or mentored by parents and teachers and what a difference it has made for their future prospects. The young college students exuded confidence, poise, determination, and excitement to soon graduate.
I heard some inspiring stories and learned about numerous STEM resources and organizations that are available for Indiana girls and young women. This conference helped me realize the importance of pursuing the hard work of collaboration as a means to increasing STEM equity and confirmed my resolve to continue making my personal contribution to this effort.
This post was written by AAUW STEM Liaison Geraldine L. Oberman, Ph.D.