Posts Tagged ‘Why So Few?’

If you’re a young woman majoring in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), it can be hard to get away from the widespread bias against women in the STEM fields. That’s why more and more colleges and universities each year are helping women students build communities by creating STEM sororities on their campuses.

STEM sorority sisters encourage each other to succeed in their fields and to stick with a STEM major. Even when the going gets tough, these women know they’re not alone because they’re surrounded by other young women encountering the same obstacles. In the male-dominated STEM fields, it’s important for women to have female role models and peers who understand their experiences and challenge the stereotypical image of the male STEM professional.

Here’s how three STEM sororities are breaking barriers — and having fun while they’re at it:

Alpha Omega Epsilon (ΑΩΕ) is a sorority for women engineers. Under the Microscope recently interviewed sisters of the new ΑΩΕ chapter at the University of Pennsylvania. The engineering sisterhood has given them a way to connect with mentors and friends who can offer support and help plan a future career path. When Penn’s rigorous exams are over, the sisters celebrate like true engineers, building structurally sound gingerbread houses for the holidays.

Alpha Sigma Kappa (ΑΣΚ) — Women in Technical Studies began when students at the University of Minnesota wanted to change the trend of male-dominated representation in STEM fields: Only 17 percent of students in technical majors at UMN were women when the sorority was founded in 1989. Since then, ΑΣΚ sisters have been challenging the stereotypes of women in tech. Says one sister on her Tumblr, “Sometimes when people hear the ‘technical’ in Alpha Sigma Kappa — Women in Technical Studies, they think ‘academic’ and equate that with dull or boring when really it means that before the ladies of ASK go out and play, we make sure we’ve got an A.”

The sisters of Phi Sigma Rho (ΦΣΡ) — a sorority for women engineering and engineering technology majors, complete with its own mascot, Sigmand the Penguin — recognize the importance of mentorship. Twice a year, members connect with alumnae for “Résumania,” where students get the chance to have their résumés critiqued by professional women engineers. Later in the year, ΦΣΡ sisters offer their own advice by writing letters of encouragement to young girls to let them know that they too can succeed in STEM.

Are you a member or an alumna of a science or technology sorority? Share your experience in the comments!

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Alexa Silverman

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The AAUW research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) found that women are vastly underrepresented in STEM majors and fields compared with their male peers. But Why So Few? also showed that those numbers can change when girls realize their potential in STEM at an early age — and that’s where Tech Trek comes in.

Tech Trek is a weeklong summer camp for rising eighth-grade girls that is designed to develop interest, excitement, and self-confidence in STEM through classes, workshops, hands-on activities, and field trips. Tech Trek started in 1998 with one site in California and has expanded to eight college campuses across the state. In summer 2011, Tech Trek was even featured on CBS Evening News.

Now, for the first time, AAUW is expanding Tech Trek nationwide. The following AAUW branches, states, and members will each receive a $10,000 grant from AAUW to host Tech Trek camps at five pilot sites:

Check back with AAUW Dialog in the coming months for more updates about each of the new camps. We’re looking forward to inspiring girls across the nation in 2013!

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Alexa Silverman.

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From Barbie to Builder

For many young girls, the perfect holiday or birthday gift is a Barbie doll. But Alice Brooks was inspired by a different toy when she was a child — a toy that led her down a unique path. When Brooks, a 24-year-old graduate student at Stanford University, was a little girl, she asked her father for a Barbie. Instead, he gave her a saw, which she used to dismantle her dollhouse. That experience inspired her to create a toy to encourage girls to love science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Excited and intrigued by the memory of dismantling a dollhouse to see its inner workings, Brooks joined forces with two other classmates, Bettina Chen and Jennifer Kessler, to form Maykah Inc. to bring exposure to STEM through toys that inspire change. The students believe that the absence of women in STEM begins in childhood.

According to AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, parents and educators can have a huge influence on the cultivation and encouragement of girls’ achievements and interest in math and science. And Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s research says that “when a girl believes that she can become smarter and learn what she needs to know in STEM subjects, she is more likely to succeed in a STEM field.”

The first product from the students’ company helps cultivate this STEM self-confidence for girls. Roominate is a toy that children can not only play with but also build and shape from the ground up. Roominate allows girls to custom build a miniature room of their choice with working circuits. LEGO attempted to create a similar product with the launch of LEGO Friends Heartlake Vet, which is based on the idea that girls can build too. Unfortunately, due to imbalanced engineering and too-simple instructions compared with LEGO toys created for boys, the set lacked challenge and creativity. In any case, toys that focus on construction are changing how girls plan their playtime and are receiving high marks from the parents who buy them.

Toys such as these also touch on an important aspect of Why So Few? by offering challenges through which girls build spatial skills. If girls grow up in an environment in which math, science, and spatial skills are cultivated, they are more likely to consider a STEM field in the future. When Brooks and her co-founders launched the idea for Roominate on Kickstarter, a website dedicated to funding creative projects, they received overwhelmingly positive feedback and exceeded their financial goal of $25,000. Roominate is now available online.

Although this all came about because a young girl received a saw instead of a Barbie, it is certainly a learning opportunity for all parents out there. When you encourage a girl to do something different and maybe forget about Barbie for a little while, the girl might just build her own life (and dollhouse) the way she would like to see it.

This post was written by AAUW STEM Programs Intern Jaleesa Hall.

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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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Be persistent, and don’t give up.

With science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), you can solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Boys and girls are equally adept at STEM subjects.

These are just a few things that can be learned by watching AAUW’s Wonder Women of STEM! webcast.

As part of the 2012 USA Science and Engineering Festival pre-expo event lineup, the broadcast introduced viewers around the world to two successful women and their STEM careers.

Cyber-information analyst Lisa Lord taught the audience a few ways to prevent cyber-attacks. Whether a hacker is breaking into your system just for fun or a terrorist group is trying to break into military networks, keeping computer information safe starts with individuals securing their computers, she said. Lord added that good passwords and updated virus-detection software are critical to protecting data. In her job, Lord works to protect our national technology infrastructure, such as communication lines and water systems, from the types of cyber-attacks that could endanger national security. She couldn’t go into more detail because of the top secret nature of her projects. Cool!

Christianne Corbett, Christianne Corbett, debunked some myths about girls in STEM. She discussed how gender bias still affects STEM professionals even when they aren’t aware of it. She also pointed out that girls can develop the skills they need to be successful in STEM careers, but stereotypes negatively influence their self-perceptions and discourage their interest in those fields.

The four webcasts featuring Lord and Corbett are now available on the JASON Project website. Share them with the young people in your life to ramp up excitement about potential STEM careers, and show young women two successful role models who are making a difference!

This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

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Many people choose careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because these fields are challenging, exciting, and present great opportunities for satisfying work and a good living. Unfortunately, women sometimes choose to leave STEM career paths because they are discouraged by the cold climate for women and a lack of mentors and role models.

Wonder Women of STEM

But with the help of their mentors, our two guests for the Wonder Women of STEM! Webcast — which will take place on Thursday, April 26 — successfully launched their STEM careers. And they continue to work with STEM today.

Guest speaker and AAUW Career Development Grantee Lisa Lord

When cyber-information analyst Lisa Lord entered her first technical job, she says a new manager named Margaret “recognized that even though I was hired into an administrative position, I had a lot more potential than that.” The relationship blossomed, and the two are now friends. Margaret helped Lord advance within the company and even supported her when she decided to go to another organization. Margaret  opened up the opportunity for Lord to take on a security-clearance position at Northrop Grumman, where she now works. With support from her company and a Career Development Grant from AAUW, Lord was able to go back to school to earn a degree in cyber security.

Lord knows that furthering her education will increase her job security in a growing field, but she says that her 5-year-old daughter has been a great motivation as well.

“I want her to know whatever she is passionate about, she can do,” Lord says. “It doesn’t have to be traditionally female or traditionally anything — if she is good at it and wants to do it, she can.”

Guest speaker and AAUW senior researcher Christianne Corbett

For Christianne Corbett, AAUW senior researcher and co-author of the report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, a career in STEM seemed like fate. In high school, she decided not to take calculus, but within weeks she was spending her lunch hour tackling formulas and equations. In college, she declared a social science major, but by junior year she was playing catch-up for a second major in engineering.

Before coming to AAUW, Corbett had a job in aerospace engineering. Women mentors not only became her natural friends in the office, they also helped her handle an out-of-line boss and were the reason she was hired and moved up in the company. Corbett enjoyed working with engineers who she felt were focused and straightforward, and the salary was substantial. But because she had little interest in the defense sector, the right balance still wasn’t there. That pull between doing work around social issues and pursuing STEM is something a lot of women struggle with, Corbett says, but now she has found that she can do both in her research for AAUW.

Hear more from Lord and Corbett by joining AAUW and the JASON Project for the first Wonder Women of STEM! webcast on Thursday, April 26. To listen to and interact with these exceptional women, tune in online at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. EDT for Corbett’s interview and at noon or 4 p.m. EDT to hear our conversation with Lord. Share this opportunity with the young people in your life so that they can see what it means to be a STEM role model — and perhaps become mentors themselves!

This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

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Join AAUW and the JASON Project for the first Wonder Women of STEM! webcast on April 26. The show will feature two high-achieving professionals who will discuss what it’s like to be a woman in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career.

Guest speaker and AAUW senior researcher Christianne Corbett

Do you know a young person who should take that extra math class, science lab, or engineering lecture? Then encourage her or him to watch the webcast, which features exciting guests Christianne Corbett and Lisa Lord.

Guest speaker and AAUW Career Development Grantee Lisa Lord

Corbett, a senior researcher at AAUW and co-author of the report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, has a background in engineering and has worked in aerospace. She now produces important research that breaks through barriers for women and girls. Lord, an AAUW Career Development Grantee who works as a cyber-information analyst, will discuss what it’s like to use cyber-security to protect our nation’s top-secret information and to prepare our infrastructure for natural and manmade disasters. During the show, you’ll learn about the opportunities that STEM has given these women to further their careers and why they are great role models for young women everywhere.

Watch online at 10 a.m. EDT for Corbett’s interview or at noon EDT for our conversation with Lord, or come to the Media and Public Affairs building at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to watch the live webcast and ask your own questions. Both women will be interviewed again at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. EDT for our online audience, so there’s no excuse to miss it!

More information will be posted on the JASON Project website, or you can RSVP on Facebook to get updates as the event draws near. So mark your calendars, and stay tuned for the first episode of Wonder Women of STEM!

This post was written by AAUW Marketing and Communications Intern Marie Lindberg.

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