Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Outreach and Women in STEM

Yesterday I got to do public outreach-sharing my science with non-scientists-which is one of my favorite parts of my job.
I was invited to present a workshop at an All Girls STEM Workshop for a group of middle school girls. The girls' teachers had requested an event to get this group of girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. I have developed a workshop that utilizes iPads to access data from satellites that are observing the Sun and other regions of space around Earth to learn about the Sun and Space Weather, which is how the Sun affects our local Earth environment. We also used solar scopes to look at the Sun and saw a couple sunspots and a cool prominence! I was the last of several workshops that they did during the day and wrapped up with some encouragement to take math and science courses in high school.
As a part of the Association for Women in Science, I am also organizing a state-wide event for middle school girls in April that includes hands-on workshops. I'll be presenting my Sun and Space Weather workshop again there.
Women continue to be underrepresented in many STEM fields. There are many factors including conscious or unconscious bias against girls' ability to do math and science, the image of scientists portrayed in our culture, and barriers (either real or perceived) of the difficulty to be a scientist and have a family or enjoy other parts of life. Exposing girls to a variety of STEM fields and getting them excited about science is important.
Coincidentally, I also received an email yesterday with a graphic created by some women in engineering advocate that was being shared for posting on websites. Most of the data on the graphic was useful-demonstrating girls loss of self-esteem/self-confidence in their abilities in STEM fields and the effects of stereotype threat (studies have shown that if you tell a group of test-takers that a particular minority performs poorly on that test, that minority will perform worse on that test than if they were not told). However, it was titled "Girls are Smarter than Boys" and contained a picture of a young girl reading a book and a picture of a young boy holding a cigarette. I felt that this was totally missing the point. My email in response included the following:
I do not support women in science because boys are stupid, which is the sentiment portrayed by this graphic. All children should be encouraged to pursue the fields that they like. Yes, we need to support girls' self esteem, but not by denigrating boys. As the mother of two boys, I definitely would not want them to see this. If you create a new graphic, please share it with me.
Hopefully they update it with a more positive message.

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking about this. That's a very awful ad campaign. I think a better one would have a series of images where little kids are playing make-believe/dress-up and the girls are dressed as doctors/surgeons while the boys are nurses, or the girls are the lead scientist in a lab with boy lab assistants or that sort of imaginative play where the female roll is the lead and the boys are supportive. But like that article you linked on twitter the other day about the woman who went to Stanford and now works for Google, she excelled by not focusing on the difference of boy & girls in math & science at all.