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 WeForum.org 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. Forbes.com 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 AAUW.org 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!