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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Happy Pi Day! Today, March 14 (or 3/14), is the day that the irrational number  (pi) is celebrated. If you are a little rusty on your math, pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It allows us to measure the circumference or area of a circle.

As a kid, when I learned about pi in math class, I was fascinated by the idea that there was a number that never stopped. And I am not alone. Scientists have calculated pi, which we usually shorten to 3.14, up to 10 trillion digits.

So why celebrate Pi Day? In AAUW’s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, we found that women are still underrepresented in math and the other STEM fields. Having a holiday that celebrates a mathematical concept is a great way to get people interested in the subject. Ways to celebrate Pi Day include enjoying a slice of the word’s homophone, pie (I recommend strawberry rhubarb), or sending a Pi Day e-card.

Yes, Pi Day is a nerdy holiday. But if it helps get more people — including women — interested STEM fields, I’m good with that. Plus, I never ignore an excuse to eat pie.

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What do Temperance “Bones” Brennan, Hermione Granger, and Abby Sciuto have in common? They’re all inspiring female characters who are science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals in movies or on TV. They serve as role models for girls who may have never considered a profession in those fields or for grown women who are having trouble navigating the “boys’ club” attitude that many STEM careers still maintain.

In 2011, the Entertainment Industries Council presented their inaugural Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) Awards commending the entertainment industry for its encouragement of STEM. That inspired me to ask our staff here at AAUW to submit their favorite women characters who can inspire a girl’s interest in STEM.

Here were some of our favorites:

Abby Sciuto

The forensic scientist on NCIS does database searches and DNA analysis without falling into the drab, dorky stereotype we often see scientists take in the media. Her quirky personality and gothic fashion sense make the forensics side of crime-scene investigations seem a lot cooler.

Temperance “Bones” Brennan

On Bones, she worked as a forensic anthropologist at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute in Washington, D.C., before she began consulting with the FBI when they needed her to identify murder victims.

Kari Byron

On the reality show MythBusters on Discovery Channel, little girls and grown women alike can love Byron for making STEM fun. Not only does she blow things up, but she can also explain how and why.

Hermione Granger

Harry Potter’s closest female ally, Granger was a master in her potions class at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If she hadn’t been recruited for magical training, she may have been one of the best chemists that fictional Europe had ever seen.

Grace Augustine

In Avatar, she pulls samples from the trees of the alien planet Pandora and explains the biological neural network that connects the native people to their environment, all while running the Avatar program.

Ellie Arroway

Jodie Foster plays this character in 1997’s Contact. The sci-fi movie is largely based on Jill Tarter, who was the director of the most comprehensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence, Project Phoenix. Tarter credits her inspiration to help women in STEM to an AAUW meeting she attended in the 1970s.


Sandy Cheeks, SpongeBob SquarePants

Camille Saroyan, Bones

Angela Montenegro, Bones

Ellie Sattler, Jurassic Park

Penelope Garcia, Criminal Minds

Susan Test and Mary Test, Johnny Test

Maddie Fenton, Danny Phantom

Megan Hunt, Body of Proof


According to a recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute, of the 81 percent of girls who report interest in STEM careers, only 13 percent say it is their first choice. Our 2010 research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics found that a girl’s perception about a gender-appropriate job can affect her career choice in the long run.

Media can be a massive influence on a child’s perceptions of the world. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that in 2009, the average 8- to 18-year-old consumes about four and a half hours of TV each day, peaking with 11- to 14-year-olds, who watch more than five hours a day.

The Entertainment Industries Council was established to improve the messages entertainment sends to these viewers. Its Picture This: Engineering publication focuses on the impact entertainment has on our country’s call for more STEM educators and workers. It also provides suggestions to entertainment creators on ways they can inspire viewers and improve the outlook on STEM.

Who else is a great STEM role model for girls and women? Tell us your favorites and learn about the SET Awards nominees at www.eiconline.org.

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

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“Hafa Adai, hello, welcome to Guam!” was the enthusiastic greeting I received as AAUW of Guam members proudly displayed their sparkling new banner.

Part of the AAUW Board of Directors’ outreach to members, my visit was initiated by a warm invitation from AAUW of Guam President Rebecca Stephenson. She pointed out the merits of a long overdue site visit to this island in Micronesia, the westernmost U.S. territory where “America’s day begins.” Indeed, Guam is 3,500 miles west of Hawaii, where my trip began, and approximately 2,000 miles from the Philippines, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China, which are among some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Guam’s strategic potential cannot be overstated. Against a backdrop of uncertainty about U.S. military buildup and the increasing migration of other Micronesians into Guam are the problems of poverty, homelessness, family violence, bullying in schools, alcoholism, and suicide — not unlike issues found in other U.S. cities and states.

Branch leaders meticulously filled my three-day itinerary with TV and radio interviews; a presentation to students at Guam Community College and the University of Guam; tours of both campuses and meetings with women faculty; a discussion with the speaker of the Guam Legislature and women senators regarding AAUW’s research and its relevance to issues facing women and families in Guam; introductions to the governor, lieutenant governor, and local and foreign dignitaries; and meetings with AAUW members and supporters.

With each encounter, I noted the high respect among island leaders for AAUW’s focus on education, research, and fellowships and grants. At each event, we discussed AAUW’s role as an advocate for accessible, affordable education; the need for higher education as preparation for economic self-sufficiency and leadership development; and applications for AAUW’s research toward Guam priorities. The data in Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math; Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School; and The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap reports was particularly effective.

I also noted the high esteem with which AAUW of Guam members are regarded. They have supported their two higher education institutions, awarded annual scholarships, initiated cultural preservation projects, built homes for people on marginal subsistence, and helped facilitate access to health care and social services. Branch members maintain regular communication with Guam senators, other island leaders, and with the media.

AAUW of Guam’s prestigious position with the international Federation of Asia-Pacific Women’s Associations affords the branch strong credibility, access to circles of influence, and avenues for action. Within FAWA, AAUW of Guam works to build women’s leadership so that women can effect the changes needed for their continuing advancement in the Asia-Pacific region.

My memorable visit with these outstanding leaders from AAUW of Guam strengthened my appreciation for the diversity of talent among all our branches and the different ways in which we enact AAUW’s mission according to conditions in our communities. We celebrate the differences among our members and are strengthened by our common goals — after all, we are united in our one world.

Si Yu’os Ma’ase, thank you to our colleagues in Guam for your steadfast commitment to AAUW’s work in Micronesia and the Asia-Pacific region.

This post was written by AAUW Vice President and Director-at-Large Patricia Fae Ho.

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