Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcome to STEM4GIRLS

Welcome to my inaugural post on STEM Programs for Girls. As part of my job, I promote STEM education and spend a lot of time developing programs specifically target girls. It is much like the design process--iteratively trying to figure out what will work and what will be successful. There are many others working on promoting STEM, and while we all have some success, I'm not sure that any of us are making the impact that is needed. With all of the money that the NSF has poured into STEM programs during the last 20 years, one would think that surely there has been significant progress in overcoming the gender inequity. While it is true that there are now more women in medical school, and certainly more women studying biology and chemistry, there is still a dearth of women in computing, physics, and engineering. And, of the women who do earn Ph.D.s in biology and chemistry, one is still hard pressed to find many woman in the top rungs of academia, or even as faculty members at our universities. Even when women come out at the top of the heap and are admitted to the ivory towers of academia, the road to promotion and tenure is fraught with difficulties (but let's not go there).

How do we overcome these challenges? Let's start at the beginning, let’s look at our educational system, let's look at role models, let's look at other cultures to see if we can find clues that will help us put the pieces together and fashion a scientific and technological workforce strengthened by the creativity and intelligence of women. Often one hears discussions about where we should concentrate our efforts. My response is that we have a leaky pipeline from beginning to end, and that our efforts should be focused from 0:Infinity. But to be realistic, one person or group has a limited amount of resources and can only focus on one segment at a time. But if we are all focusing on different segments, we can get the job done. Of course, that requires lots of efforts, lots of smarts, and lots of coordination.

To that end, two years ago I co-founded a group in the Boston area comprised of representatives from a dozen non-profits and institutions of higher ed. While it is always difficult to bring a group of strangers together, we rallied around a common cause and each brought her own skills and perspectives to the table. We call ourselves the Boston Area Girls STEM Collaborative (but are searching for a catchier name). While nothing happens overnight, we have collaborated twice on SET in the City, a program for high school students ( and are launching a one-week summer program for middle school students focused on computing, technology and engineering and aptly named Tech Savvy ( The beauty of these programs is that they are hosted by multiple organizations. For example, each of five institutions will present program activities for one day of Tech Savvy. The girls will be dropped off and picked up at the same location, but then bused to a different venue venue each day. Since each school is cost-sharing its activities, the program ends up being very cost effective, with the collaborative only paying for design of the flier, buses, and tee shirts. Plus there is a wonderful feeling that comes from working as part of a collaborative and everyone pitching in. Our SET in the City event follows the same type of format with students beginning the day at one location, boarding buses that take them to another venue for lunch and activities, and everyone converging at the Museum of Science for final presentations and an OMNI show. It is really an example of the sum of the parts becoming greater than the whole.

That's all for now. Please send your ideas, suggestions, thoughts about how to achieve gender parity in the world of STEM.