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  •, STEM, Technology

    We Need More Girls in STEM, and Here’s What we are Doing About it!

    She’s Into STEM!

    A Recap of GirlSpring’s Third Annual STEM Fair

    On February 9, GirlSpring hosted a STEM Fair for girls in grades 6-12 at the Children’s Hospital of Alabama, Bradley Lecture Center inside Children’s Harbor. Girls Inc. of Central Alabama and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Birmingham Branch co-hosted the event. At 8:30 AM, nearly 100 girls, and their parents began rushing inside from the cold – eager for the day.

    Upon check-in, girls received a goodie bag and an activity requiring them to make a new friend by the end of the day. A Q&A with our panel – featuring successful, Birmingham women in STEM-related careers – kicked off the event.

    Our panel included Dr. Farah Lubin, Neurobiologist; Rupa Kitchens, M.D., Urologist, Urology Centers of Alabama; Claire Datnow, Author and Science Communicator; Mandy Schwarting, Regional Director of Alabama Operations, Spire Energy; Carnetta Davis, Engineer (retired), GirlSpring Board Member, and community leader; Haley Hoppe, Director of Marketing and Communications, Children’s Harbor; M’Kayl Lewis, V.P. Member Services, PackHealth and Tina Simpson, M.D., Adolescent Medicine, Children’s of Alabama.

    Each panelist spoke about her career and what inspired her to enter the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). One panelist asked the girls who among them was attending the STEM Fair solely to please her parents. Over half of the girls raised their hand(!). However, by the end of the day – no one wanted to leave.

    The fact that 50 out of the 100 girls in attendance admitted that their parents made them attend the STEM fair is an excellent indicator of the need to have more information and  about STEM career opportunities available to girls, and an indicator of the lack of knowledge about these fields that exists among young girls.

    A study from shows a similar statistic: out of 100 female college students, 12 will graduate with a STEM degree, but only 3 are predicted to continue in the STEM industry during the 10 years after graduation. This illustrates the underrepresentation of women in this field. reports that in 1993, just 21% of Science and Engineering jobs were filled by women, although in the past 25 years this percentage has risen to 28%, which is a bit of good news.

    Although women can account for half of all U.S. jobs, they hold less than 25% of U.S. STEM jobs.

    By exposing young girls to successful women in the world of STEM, we can begin tackling the stereotypes surrounding STEM that girls face from an early age. An article from discusses how sustaining a “Growth Mindset” can benefit girls interested in STEM. The notion that intelligence is static rather than developed may deter girls from exploring their interest in STEM. However, believing in developed intelligence encourages the desire to learn and embrace challenges. When women and girls believe they have a fixed amount of intelligence, they are more likely to disengage when faced with inevitable difficulties.

    After the Q&A, the girls split into groups and set off to explore their curiosities of STEM at each one of our female-lead demonstration booths.

    A few panelists – Dr. Farah Lubin, Rupa Kitchens, M.D., Haley Hoppe, and Claire Datnow – also took part in our demonstration booths. In addition to our panelist demos, we had several volunteer booths: Haifa Al-Harrasi and Callista Cox, UAB MakerSpace; Shreya Malhotra, UAB Neuroscience; Caryn Davis, Girls, Inc.; Sharnice Walker and Whitney Covington, Clinical Laboratory, UAB Emergency Department; and Liucija Smaizyte Wright, Financial Services, Morgan Stanley

    Thanks to our fantastic volunteers, the girls had plenty of learning opportunities. Haifa and Callista from UAB MakerSpace illustrated the process of 3D printing along with discussing its benefits; Shreya Malhotra, who studies Neuroscience at UAB, taught the girls a few things about neurobiology by examining sheep’s brains; Liucija Wright proved to the girls that math really does exist outside the classroom by introducing them to financial budgeting; and Claire Datnow demonstrated her app, NatureFind, which assists in locating places of nature and identifying insects!

    Interactive, career-based events for young girls are great tools for empowerment and positive inspiration. Interacting with different types of women in leadership positions allows young girls to easily picture themselves in these roles.

    We want to change the statistics above.

    Despite the fact that in the last 40 years, 40 percent of STEM degrees were awarded to women – women make up less than 30 percent of the STEM workforce. According to the Association for Women in Science, it requires a minimum of $1 Million to train scientists and engineers at a Ph.D. level. As a nation, we spend a lot on training and education for women in STEM, but we are not utilizing the skills of this well-trained workforce.

    The STEM workforce could improve by increasing the number of women in the talent pool. When women are underrepresented in STEM fields,  there is no female voice in the decision-making process, which is a missed opportunity considering the types of large scale operations that come out of STEM fields that impact our society. One benefit of diversity is that it brings new perspectives. We need more success stories of women breaking down the barriers society has built around us – especially in STEM. Initiatives and programs for young girls are just the beginning!

    GirlSpring, along with our co-hosts Girls Inc. and AAUW, is thrilled to be able to offer a day of STEM activities that get girls excited about STEM fields! For more about this event, check out this article by Claire Datnow of AAUW Birmingham.
    Looking for information on STEM programs for teens in Birmingham? Check out Girls Inc. of Central Alabama’s Teen Eureka Summer Camp Programs
    Tech Birmingham and Innovate Birmingham also offer a number of programs for teen audiences. 
  • Articles, STEM

    Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement: Now What?

    We’ve all seen the pictures of polar bears clinging to melting sheets of ice and read about the alarming acreage of the Amazon Forest lost to deforestation. Yet, a stunning new development has rocked the world – the U.S., once a leader of the climate change movement, has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, a global pact designed to cap rising global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius. According to NASA, over 97% of climate scientists believe that “climate-warming trends are extremely likely due to human activities.” Since the Industrial Revolution, the rise in CO₂ emissions, among other greenhouse gases, has slowly but steadily raised the global temperature. Though the rise in temperature – at an average of 0.14 every decade since 1901 in contiguous America – may seem small, the truth is that this trend in warming has disastrous effects on biodiversity, ecological communities, and our 21st-century lifestyles.

    The Paris Agreement provides a way for countries to respond to this disaster by agreeing to limit the global rise in temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius. This move would cap the rise in temperatures until newer clean energy technologies can be fully implemented. The agreement would facilitate a slow transition to renewable energy sources without causing economies to plummet. The Paris Agreement allows countries to create their own unique plans as to how each individual country will follow through with this 2-degree cap. This flexibility provides countries with the freedom to analyze their existing industrial frameworks and how they can respond to this challenge.

    As of today, over 148 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement. Among those who originally ratified the Agreement were India, China, and the United States. Yet, recently, the President has withdrawn from this agreement on the terms that it would impact the economy and hurt American manufacturing. The President who has issued several controversial opinions about climate change had promised on the campaign trail to pull out from this agreement. Though the President disagrees with the treaty, University of Virginia Professor of Natural History Hank Shugart believes that though the treaty is “ weak as it is non-binding and disadvantages developing nations, it is better than taking no action.”

    The withdrawal from the Paris Agreement has sent shockwaves around the world. The UN called the US withdrawal “disappointing.” Many climate scientists also believe that the US is taking the wrong step in fighting climate change. One thing is clear, however, with this setback. Instead of leading the way for fighting climate change as one of the world’s superpowers, the US has regressed and placed its responsibility in the hands of European and Asian leaders who must now lead the way to secure a habitable planet for future generations.



  • Articles, Celebrities, STEM

    the Dakota Access Pipeline: the Latest

    It only felt like yesterday when I logged onto Facebook to see reports of Shailene Woodley getting arrested at Standing Rock along with 26 other protesters, fighting for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s right to clean drinking water at the construction site of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Her passion for the environment was awe-inspiring and I only felt even more empowered when she took the stage at the 2016 Environmental Media Awards to call even more attention to the #noDAPL movement (no Dakota Access Pipeline). But, all of that happened in October of last year. Now, halfway into 2017, I find my newsfeed, usually inundated with news about protests at Standing Rock, eerily void of all news about the pipeline. What has happened in the last eight months?

    Let’s first go over what the Dakota Pipeline is and why it’s newsworthy. The Dakota Access Pipeline is a project that has been well into the making for several years. According to the Smithsonian, the Dakota Access Pipeline will span over 1200 miles, connecting oil production fields in North Dakota to a river port in Patoka, Illinois. Developers state that the pipeline would transport well over “470,000 barrels of crude oil every single day.” The Standing Rock Sioux, a Native American tribe, opposes the construction of the pipeline because the tribe believes that it endangers the health and safety of its people with the threat of possible water contamination. The Pipeline would also be built on Sioux burial grounds, desecrating the tribe’s sacred history.

    According to the Washington Post, in February of 2017, the Trump administration approved the final permit of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In act of brazen indifference to the Sioux culture, tradition, and basic right to unpolluted drinking water, the administration went again environmentalist concerns and gave the green light for the pipeline’s construction. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised halfway into writing this article to notice a new headline in my inbox, a headline that was positive for the Sioux concerns and a major blow to the administration. The article, released by NPR, stated that the administration failed to “follow proper environmental procedures when it granted approval to the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project.” Though the judge’s ruling does not halt construction of the Pipeline, it does open up a door to this possibility.

    In our history classes, we often read about the several injustices done to the first Americans. Yet, it’s tragic how we only talk about the Natives at the Thanksgiving dinner table. The reality is that not all interactions between the first Americans and the Europeans were like that between Squanto and the early settlers. The story continued on, and the ending was happier for the European colonizers than it was for the Native Americans. Hopefully, with increased attention to this cause, we can give the Natives the respect they deserve by protesting the development of this disastrous pipeline. Yes, it may be beneficial to our economy to have this pipeline built, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the environmental havoc this Pipeline can cause if the proper environmental risks are not as heavily weighed. As in the words of a Cree Indian prophecy, “Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”


  • Articles, STEM

    GirlSpring Receives AAUW Community Action Grant

    GirlSpring Receives AAUW Community Action Grant for STEM

    GirlSpring is in the midst of our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative, which is funded by a two-year Community Action Grant from AAUW (American Association of University Women). Our Executive Director is a member of the organization and learned about the opportunity at an AAUW meeting. We are excited to have this grant and the opportunity to expose our audience to the many opportunities available in STEM.

    One of the most exciting things we’ve been able to do so far is host a STEM Fair for girls at Children’s Hospital in April 2017. We had about 100 girls, and a group of inspiring mentors form a variety of STEM fields, including veterinary medicine, psychology, nutrition, math, medicine, neuroscience, and more! We hope to collaborate with some of our partners and offer an even bigger fair next year!

    • More articles about STEM activities on our website
    • More incorporation of STEM into our public programs (save the date for a public screening of the film She Started It on August 18, 2017)
    • More collaboration with other organizations in the community that offer STEM activities and resources
    • More opportunities to meet women in STEM fields on our website, and in person through mentoring opportunities.

    AAUW is a wonderful organization that promotes equity for women and offers opportunities for scholarships and fellowships. To learn more about AAUW and their opportunities, visit

    If you are interested in learning more about our STEM opportunities, or if you are a professional working in a STEM field and are interested in mentoring, please email [email protected]

  • Articles, School, STEM

    Are Boys Better Than Girls at Math?

    While contemplating about my future career on a hot summer day last year, I jokingly asked my dad what he would think if I became an engineer. Though I had no interest in anything related to engineering, I wanted to see if my conservative father would have any objections to me entering a male-dominated field. As expected, my father retorted, “Isn’t engineering too masculine? Why not become a doctor or a researcher?” Though my father had my best interests in mind, I noted that my father wasn’t the only one who held that perception. I had subconsciously held that bias as well from a very young age, as did many of my female peers. But, while some scientists may hold the gender gap to social and cultural factors, others have controversial opinions about the innate cognitive ability that support misguided stereotypes that portray one gender as intellectually superior to the other.

    In order to explain the gender gap in some STEM fields, professor of economics and finance at the University of Michigan, Mark. J. Perry used gaps found between the scores achieved by boys and girls on the SAT math section to support his claim that boys are better than math than girls. Perry found that boys, on average, scored 40 points higher than girls on the 2015 SAT math section Perry then went on to say that these scores may suggest that “closing the STEM gender degree and job gaps may be a futile attempt in socially engineering an unnatural and unachievable outcome.”

    But, are SAT test results an accurate representation of intelligence and success in STEM fields? There is a lot of speculation being thrown around in Mr. Perry’s studies. In fact, time and time again, scientists have disproved the “boys are better than girls at math” theory. According to a study conducted by Stanford University, researchers suggested that “gender differences in competitive attitudes may cause mathematics test scores to give a biased representation of the underlying gender differences in math skills.” Mr. Perry’s study is the case in point as he exaggerates the bias that men are better than math than women, instead of pinpointing other external factors that contribute to differences in test scores, like varied responses to pressure and competition and other social and cultural factors.

    According to data released by the College Board, on average, high school girls get better grades than boys and are more likely to graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. Which is a better indicator of success in any future career? Grades that have been earned over a time period of four long years or a three-hour test taken on a Saturday morning? A Google search can quickly reveal that high school GPA is a better indicator of college success than the SAT or ACT, and the number of test-optional colleges that acknowledge this fact is on the rise.

    Closing the gender gap in STEM is a challenge that can be duly accomplished. By viewing both girls and boys as intellectual equals early on, stereotypes which portray one gender as superior to the other will not faze our future engineers and computer scientists. Caution must be taken when reading anything on the Internet; case in point to Mr. Perry’s attempt to tell me that women becoming engineers and computer scientists is an “unnatural and unachievable outcome.”

    SAT Scores by Gender
    Why the STEM Gender gap is so Overblown
    Gender Gap in Math Test Scores

  • Articles, School, STEM

    Can This Strain of Bacteria Save the World? by Meenu Johnkutty

    With the rise in plastic use over the past few decades, much research has been dedicated to finding ways to manage its effects on the environment. Thankfully, there may be a way to curtail the long periods of time needed for plastic to degrade on its own (~400 years). Introducing…plastic-eating bacteria! A team of Japanese scientists has recently discovered a new strain of bacteria that can eat away at a type of plastic called PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. PET is the type of plastic commonly found in some polyester clothing and containers used to hold liquids. So, chances are, you have come across this plastic at least once today since PET is used virtually everywhere.

    Though a lot of studies have been released about using fungi to decompose PET, virtually none have discussed using bacteria as a bioremediation strategy to tackle the amount of plastic in the environment. But, this new strain of bacteria shows major promise since it’s able to use PET as a major energy and carbon source. The bacteria produce two enzymes that break down PET into two environmentally-friendly monomers. Currently, scientists are studying how to use this bacteria to degrade plastics at an expedited pace, so that it can be implemented on a larger scale. The key to expediting the plastic degradation process is to genetically engineer a more powerful bacteria that can decompose plastic more efficiently.
    This can be done by transferring genes that make the enzymes work faster.

    Though a lot of effort and research is needed to scale this strain of bacteria to a larger level, the promise this research holds is immense. Hopefully, in a few years’ time, we might hear about facilities that only employ bacteria to break down plastic! Only time will tell.

    Bacteria Found to Eat PET Plastics Could Help do the Recycling
    A Bacterium that Degrades and Assimilates Poly(ethylene terephthalate)

    What is PET Plastic, PETE Plastic?

  • College, School, STEM

    3 Reasons You Should Become a Science Researcher

    For the past two summers, I had the utmost privilege to work as an assistant student researcher at New York Medical College. Even when I was a little girl, I was always curious about the world around me. That curiosity extended to the science experiments I used to conduct in my kitchen while my parents were working. Whether to be creating density experiments or exploding baking soda volcanoes, I loved how the technicalities of the scientific world could apply to the things I used every day. As I grew older, I saw that researching in the lab would fit my affinity for thinking analytically and my love for science. Not only that, I also realized that being an experienced researcher would act as my springboard for future opportunities. So, for all of you science lovers with an investigative spirit, here are 3 reasons why you should become a science researcher!

    1. It’s fulfilling.
    Real talk now, I’ve always been a control freak. So, entering the lab with zero technical knowledge about how the equipment worked and the nitty gritty details behind advanced scientific topics was extremely frightening. As I gradually gained experience dealing with the equipment and learned how to comb through technical science research reports, I noticed how much that fear of the “unknown” subsided. I started to see how much I was learning just by doing. My experiences dealing with difficult concepts in the lab prepared me for the difficult concepts I tackled in AP courses in high school. Instead of freaking out over complex topics, I learned to take a step back, break the concept up into little pieces, and then understand it completely.

    2. It teaches you to learn from your mistakes.
    One of my biggest flaws is my fear of failure. During the school year, I would be deathly afraid of failing a test or looking bad in front of a teacher. When I first entered the lab, I made a lot of mistakes. Whether it be handling the equipment incorrectly or even missing a decimal point doing calculations, I “failed” on multiple occasions and this made me incredibly upset and frustrated. With help from my mentor, however, I learned to get over these failures and learn from my mistakes. My failures gave me the added determination to get things right and turn out my best work. At the end of my internship, I was able to take pleasure in how much I had improved and it made me appreciate the value of hard work and dedication. Becoming a good researcher doesn’t always mean getting everything right. It does mean understanding our mistakes, accepting them, and rectifying where you went wrong.

    3. It gives you a taste of a future in research
    Research is a truly rewarding experience. Through my time researching, I met a lot of distinguished scientists, competed at research competitions, and got a taste of a future in scientific research. Though research can get a bit lonely, it does allow you to actively search for answers and contribute something meaningful to the scientific community. If you’re more of an introvert, becoming a science researcher might be a perfect career option. But, extroverts can also succeed in this field. A good researcher is not just a responsible scientist, but a great communicator as well. In order to be recognized for your work, good communication skills are vital, especially if you’re competing at science research symposiums or fairs.

    If you’re interested in learning more about how you can become a science researcher, please visit this article written by the Huffington Post. It gives you tips on how to find a mentor and start investigating! Good luck!
    How to Get Involved with Research in High School