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Posts Tagged ‘science’

Over the past six months, the United States has sweltered through record-breaking high temperatures and dangerous weather anomalies. Thanks to everything from derechos to droughts, renewed anxiety for our planet — and ourselves — is inevitable. For AAUW, environmental concerns are a fascinating part of our heritage.

Alice Beeman, narrator of an AAUW This Beleaguered Earth radio public service announcement

Alice Beeman, narrator of an AAUW This Beleaguered Earth radio public service announcement

Did you know that in the late 1960s and early 1970s AAUW undertook a battle for environmental reform? At that time, the nation was awakening to the ecological distress caused by pollution from everyday human activity and beginning to recognize the effect these toxins were having on the environment and on people. The forward-thinking AAUW program This Beleaguered Earth – Can Man Survive?  put a “focus on the ecological problems faced by mankind today … how and why we are threatened as a species. It also suggest[ed] ideas for action to reverse environmental pollution and deterioration.”

In an effort to identify and define environmental issues on the local, national, and even international level, AAUW called on lawmakers and citizens alike to learn about the ecological struggles at hand and to take up the fight for a cleaner, safer world. AAUW branches focused on specific issues, many of which related to local problems within the broader topic of environmental reform. Members studied topics ranging from the obvious, such as water and air pollution, to the revolutionary, such as soundscape protection and noise reduction and alternative energy sources like solar and nuclear power.

These studies resulted in a wealth of information. To ensure its effective application, the AAUW national office held conferences, narrated public service announcements, and produced educational publications such as This Beleaguered Earth: Models for Citizen Action and the Tool Kit for Community Action. Among other things, these documents suggested activism projects and ways to influence change. The power of individual branches combined under a nationally organized campaign allowed AAUW to stand as a united force against environmental destruction.

This work continues to resonate today. For example, the AAUW Queens (NY) Branch’s home ecology quiz from January 1973 helped individuals recognize everyday threats to the environment and identify ways to make a difference. Considering today’s ecological concerns, which questions do you think are still relevant? How would you update the questions to better reflect the problems our planet faces today? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and take the quiz to see how you score! I’m “almost there.”

 

 

This post was written by AAUW Archives Intern Kelsey Conway.

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One hundred powerful women in a room together — what a sight to behold! These women, all attendees of the inaugural U.S. News and World Report STEM Summit conference, were celebrating not only each other but also the progress that has been made for women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The conference, put together by STEMConnector.org and many other sponsors and partners, was a gathering to discuss STEM on a national level that has not been seen before. The goal of the event was to bring together stakeholders from as many different aspects of the STEM arena as possible, and with 1,600 attendees, it was one of the largest such gatherings in the United States so far.

The conference as a whole was truly indicative of the country’s snowballing interest in STEM education, and attendees included celebrities like basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Laura Kaeppeler, the current Miss America; and STEM icons such as Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST Robotics.

The theme of gender and STEM ran throughout the conference, and with panels like The Changing Face of STEM and Cultural, Ethnic, and Demographic Strengths in Raising STEM Awareness, it was obvious that the business, higher education, and K–12 communities are aware of and actively working to bring more women and girls into the STEM pipeline.

The ultimate goal of STEMConnector.org is to help coordinate and encourage those communities by bringing together information about organizations, business, and education in one place online. The conference and the work of STEM Connector reflect a broader, national conversation about how to get and keep kids interested in STEM while also bringing real-world skills into school curricula. At the conference, teachers, principals, and faculty brought to light why it is critical that all levels of the educational system and professional arenas continue to focus on this issue. On the front lines, they continue to see girls internalize the idea that these careers are not for them or be deterred by social pressure to conform to outdated gender stereotypes.

STEM Connector also put together the impressive 100 Women Leaders in STEM publication, which honors women in three categories — nonprofit, for profit, and government — and includes AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman. She is in good company — the publication features women with impressive accomplishments from start to finish.

The women who attended the reception honoring the 100 Women Leaders in STEM were truly a testament to the changes that have occurred thanks to Title IX and other advances in education and culture. The event was a rare opportunity to be in a room with so many talented women in STEM and to celebrate their accomplishments. I was proud to know that AAUW was included on the list and has played a critical role in breaking down the barriers that stopped women from succeeding in these fields for so long. And we will continue to do so in the years to come!

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LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet

“Is that for me? Cool!”

That was the response from my 8-year-old after I brought home the LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet set I won in an office raffle. There were no comments about the pastel colors, flowers, butterflies, stars, hearts, or even the characters on the box. The more than 300 pieces quickly joined hundreds of their little plastic friends that were already littering my dining room table. The Friends line, which consists of 23 sets that follow the story of five tweens living in make-believe Heartlake City, is targeted at girls ages 6–12. My child is a boy.

In contrast to his reaction, the launch of LEGO Friends last December was met with skepticism, disappointment, and frustration  as a gender-based marketing ploy. LEGOs, like many other construction-based toys that are marketed to boys, are widely recognized as foundational tools for developing spatial skills and the ability to mentally construct three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional images. Spatial visualization is important to later success in engineering and other scientific fields. While boys tend to outperform girls in cognitive tests of visual and spatial abilities as early as preschool, our 2010 research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics points out that girls’ success can be cultivated with practice and simple training.

Human Minifigures LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet

This is where LEGO Friends misses the mark. Its simplified construction process, along with its emphasis on the themes of caregiving, playing dress-up, shopping, baking, and other stereotypically girly activities dumbs down the accomplishment of following instructions to master a task. Even the human minifigures in the Friends set are more distinguished by feminine physical appearance — they’re taller, curvier, and more fashionable and doll-like than traditional LEGO characters — than they are by any life or career potential.

The initial thrill of any new LEGO set for my son has always come from putting it together by himself. The afterglow of that achievement generally wears thin within a few weeks, though, and then those same sets mesh into a hodgepodge of other creations. In this case, the veterinary clinic has since been destroyed by a rampaging Hulk, Thor, and other Marvel Avengers in an epic battle against the super villain Loki.

My son’s creativity and enjoyment were not restricted by the gender limitations of the product. And after the millions of dollars that were already spent to market and sell these toys, I’ll assume that LEGO Friends aren’t going away any time soon. I just hope that moving forward, Heartlake City lives up to what LEGOs for girls can really be.

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“I get by with a little help from my friends” is the tune running through our heads as we anticipate posting the list of our 2012–13 AAUW fellowship and grant recipients. These women will receive more than a little help — $4.3 million in funding — from their friends, the thousands of generous AAUW donors who passionately support our prestigious fellowships and grants programs.

AAUW Fellow Naomi Ondrasek

On Friday, April 13, we will announce the new class of AAUW fellows and grantees and welcome them into an extraordinary group of inspiring women. We look forward to meeting them, learning about their careers and experiences, seeing them join this exclusive group, and sharing their stories with you. We know they’ll be excited! As we’ve gotten to know our past recipients, we’ve loved hearing the stories of how honored they felt when they were selected for their AAUW awards.

The University of California, Berkeley, Graduate Division’s website profiled 2011–12 American Fellow Naomi Ondrasek after she received her award. In the interview, she described the morning she found out about her fellowship.

“The night before that date, I didn’t sleep very well,” says Ondrasek, whose dissertation research is on the mouse-like rodent known as the meadow vole. “Like a lot of other graduate students, I was feeling anxious about my funding situation for the upcoming year.” The next morning, she “literally rolled out of bed and walked straight toward the computer. I pulled up the AAUW website, and bam! The recipient list was up.” Although sleepy and reluctant to face the results, “I figured I should treat it like ripping a Band-Aid off — just do it and deal with the emotional consequences later.” She opened the list and “scrolled down for what seemed like forever, didn’t see my name, and felt deflated.”

“Then I realized I was looking under the wrong award, so I scrolled farther down, and there I was!” (At this point, her tale briefly takes on a sitcom aspect.) “I was so excited to tell someone, I ran from the computer, threw open the door to the bedroom, and scared the daylights out of my husband, who had been sound asleep. He sat bolt upright in bed, asking what was wrong and if someone had broken into the house.”

Ondrasek’s story is a great reminder of how important AAUW fellowships and grants are to the recipients. Alumnae of this program have told us that AAUW gave them a chance when they had lost hope in their studies or were not advancing professionally, or that their awards opened academic and occupational doors that they had never expected. We certainly hope that no one is losing sleep over our upcoming announcement, and we look forward to welcoming all awardees into the AAUW family!

To learn more about Ondrasek and her research, read the full blog on UC Berkeley’s website. And don’t forget to check our website for the award-recipient list on April 13!

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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After spending a semester meeting and interviewing former AAUW fellows and grantees, I have come to see AAUW awards as opportunities for recipients to develop themselves as women, mentors, and people who are hoping to share their knowledge. 2010–11 American Fellow Mary Blair is the perfect example.

Fascinated with science as a child, Blair continued her passion for biology at Swarthmore College. There, she had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with research. She spent a semester abroad in Costa Rica, where she worked at a primate rescue center conducting behavioral ecology research focusing on the Central American squirrel monkey. These monkeys are vulnerable to extinction, and it was a rare opportunity to do research on the species. Blair is helping to contribute to the fields of biology and evolutionary primatology through her research. Her dissertation, which was partially funded by AAUW, was recently published by the American Journal of Primatology as a featured article.

Blair continues to work with primates, as well as other closely related species, as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. Her research focuses on examining the evolution of diversity in slow lorises in Southeast Asia and in lemurs in Madagascar.

Through the Enhancing Diversity in Conservation Science Initiative, Blair hopes to increase the diversity of scientists who become biologists. She researches why certain groups are underrepresented and what can be done to fix this. Blair’s interest in diversity developed in part from her mother’s collegiate experience as one of two math majors at Wilson College. In a recent lecture at her mother’s alma mater, Blair asserted that the female experience in science is an amalgamation of good and disappointing news and that the story is worse for minorities. She believes that the application of techniques that are used to increase women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields can be leveraged to increase the participation of other underrepresented groups. She remains committed to improving the diversity of her field of study, which she says can be a survival-of-the-fittest atmosphere.

Aside from research, Blair is devoted to mentoring. She credits AAUW and her fellowship for allowing her to focus on her dissertation as well as foster a strong relationship with her mentor. Blair’s personal connection to mentoring is rooted in her desire to improve women’s representation in STEM, and she has worked with Women and Girls Advancement at the Association for Women in Science in Washington, D.C., as well as Girl’s Science Day through Women in Science at Columbia University. She also now participates in the American Museum of Natural History’s Association for Women in Science.

As she contemplates the path of her career, Blair is prepared to continue her research and teaching or to work in a nongovernmental organization. Undoubtedly, Blair’s success will continue in either path her career takes, and both give her the opportunity to inspire young girls in STEM.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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Plan B One-StepAAUW was seriously disappointed by the Obama administration’s Wednesday decision, directly defended by the president, to block the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of selling emergency contraception to women without restriction. Along with the rest of the women’s rights community, AAUW expected the Obama administration to approve the over-the-counter sale of Plan B contraception — commonly referred to as the morning-after pill — without requiring a prescription. We are disheartened by this decision, especially since it seems to contradict the administration’s stated commitment to following science instead of politics when making decisions. Yet, as a statement from the director of the FDA makes clear, this decision was based on politics, not science.

Approved for use by the FDA in 1997, emergency contraception, or Plan B, prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. In March 2009, a federal judge in New York ordered the FDA to reconsider its previous decision to limit nonprescription access to emergency contraception to women ages 18 and older, asserting that the entire process had been influenced by “political and ideological” considerations imposed by the Bush administration. This decision made emergency contraception available over the counter  to women 17 and older only. The FDA’s decision this week concerned whether to retain or lift this restriction, a change that AAUW supported.

AAUW encourages efforts to increase education about and access to emergency contraception for all women, including minors, and believes emergency contraception should be available without prescriptions or restrictions. Greater awareness of and improved access to emergency contraception could help reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion in the United States. AAUW supports the right of every woman to obtain medically accurate information about and access to safe and comprehensive reproductive health services. This is also why AAUW supports comprehensive sex education programs. The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in the developed world.

The decision appears to be part of a worrying pattern from the Obama administration on women’s reproductive rights. For example, 2011 appropriations — at the president’s behest — reinstated the ban on Washington, D.C.’s, use of its own taxpayer money to fund abortions for low-income women. Additionally, the administration still has not fully rescinded the Bush-era “conscience clause” regulations, which allow health care providers to deny necessary medical care to women. Officials may also approve regulations that let certain employers deny contraceptive coverage to more than 1 million women who were guaranteed this coverage under the health care reform law.

AAUW has supported choice in women’s reproductive decisions since 1935. We need President Obama to do so as well.

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“No botox, no detox. My name is Loretta Ford, and I approve this message.”

So ended the speech of 91-year-old Ford as she accepted her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame along with 10 others last weekend in Seneca Falls, New York.

The tone of her remarks was unexpected, yet they captured the essence of the ceremony — the spirit, excitement, and passion of women who have changed the world and aren’t done yet.

Sitting in a room with these women who have shaped — indeed, are shaping — major areas of our lives was enthralling, and AAUW was proud to be there to celebrate the role four of them have played in our mission.

First, there was Helen Murray Free, a national member of AAUW who was honored for her contributions to medicine. Echoing many of the honorees’ sentiments, Free said she hadn’t set out to change people’s lives — it was a serendipitous accident.

“In September 1941, I was going to the College of Wooster to be a Latin and English teacher. Then Pearl Harbor happened in December, and the fellas all left to join the Navy and the Air Force,” Free said. “One night, the house mother came in and said, ‘Helen, you’re taking chemistry and getting good grades … why don’t you switch?’ And I just said OK. I fell in love with chemistry, and it was wonderful.”

Fast forward six years later, and Free had a degree chemistry, a job at Miles Laboratories, and a husband who would become her partner in changing lives. The Frees soon became a powerhouse in medical diagnostics — their research led to the first dip-and-read diagnostic test strips.

And that was just one inspiring AAUW story.

Donna Shalala, who under President Bill Clinton became the longest-serving U.S. secretary of health and human services, was also inducted. Early in her career, AAUW gave her a young scholar award.

“It was critical money and a critical award and a critical trajectory,” Shalala remembered. “I loved the fact that they intervened in my career, and it made a real difference. AAUW helped me network. I met amazing people as a result.”

Thrillingly, Lilly Ledbetter was also among the inductees. A close friend to AAUW and a newly published author, Ledbetter has been a crucial figure in the fair pay campaign, from her Supreme Court case to the bill named in her honor to the lingering Paycheck Fairness Act.

“When I set out in my career in 1979, it wasn’t part of my grand plan to someday have my name in the Supreme Court or on an act of Congress. I simply wanted to work hard and support my family. The rest, I believed, would take care of itself,” she said during her acceptance speech.

Fellow inductee Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), a critical ally to Ledbetter and AAUW in the fair pay struggle, spoke to me before the ceremony about change-making women.

“It’s a great honor to be picked and join [more than] 240 other women who made a difference in science, politics, civil rights, medicine,” she said. “Every one lived in their time and seized the power that is now. When Rosa Parks sat down, the whole world stood up. It’s carpe diem.”

Mikulski believes AAUW plays an important role in making that happen. “Young people need someone to believe in them,” she said. “Some people have family that will believe in them. Not everyone has that supportive adult that tells you, ‘You can do it, and I can help you.’ It makes a difference to do that in young people’s lives. AAUW today is making that difference.”

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