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Biochemist's Comments Reveal Continuing Sexism in STEM

In high school, I was the only woman from my class on our academic team (a group like quiz bowl). My male teammates sidelined me in one competition when the questions focused on biology. As a woman interested in the humanities, I was pigeon-holed as inferior in the sciences. When I knew the answers to the questions they got wrong, I became frustrated. Why hadn’t I stood up for myself?

The reason might have been the entrenched stereotype, exemplified by the recent comments of biochemist and Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, that women and science don’t mix.

Hunt’s Comments and Twitter’s Response Read more »

White House Summit on STEM Will Hopefully Reverse Trend of No Girls of Color Taking AP Computer Science Exams in 12 States

Today, the White House with the U.S. Department of Education and The Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University Law Center are hosting “Front and Center,” a day-long conference aimed at addressing marginalized girls’ lack of access to STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE). 

The summit comes shortly after Education Week reported that although the number of students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam “skyrocketed” from 2013 to 2014, girls—particularly girls of color—remain underrepresented among test takers.  Female students in general were noticeably underrepresented among test takers, as well as Hispanic and African American boys: only 20% of the test takers were girls, only 9% were Hispanic, and only 4% were African American. In fact, in 12 states not a single Black student sat for the AP Computer Science exam; Mississippi, where African Americans make up 37% of the state’s population, is among those states, and Montana has the dubious distinction of not having had a single female, Hispanic, or African American student take the exam.  Read more »

Families Succeed When Women Have Equal Access to Nontraditional Jobs

On Monday I attended the White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit brought together business leaders, advocates, and workers to talk about the challenges faced by working parents and how we can address them. It was both sad and inspiring to hear President Obama talk about the need for paid family leave, high-quality and affordable childcare, workplace flexibility, and decent wages for a hard day’s work. These are things a great country like ours should already have, and yet it’s clear that we all have to work together to push for these changes. Too many women are living paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to take a day off to stay with a sick child or care for a family member. 

I was especially happy to hear the President talk about the need for more women and people of color in nontraditional jobs, especially the STEM fields. For example, we know that despite making up almost half of workers in all occupations (47 percent), women are only 2.6 percent of workers in construction and extraction occupations. This underrepresentation negatively affects women’s income, as traditionally male fields pay higher wages and have a lower wage gap than those dominated by women. That’s why our new report, Women in Construction: Still Breaking Ground, is so important. More must be done to reverse this trend and bring the construction industry into the 21st century.

The President agrees. In conjunction with the Summit, the White House released a fact sheet that outlines how federal agencies and Congress can help: Read more »

What Could We Do If We Weren't Afraid of Being "Bossy"?

When I was three, I jumped up during ballet class at Olga Berest’s Dance Studio and began busting a move. The teachers couldn’t get me to stop dancing. I thought that because it was a dance class, we should always be moving, and I took serious action on that viewpoint.

I was certainly not afraid of expressing myself – because I was three. Children aren’t born afraid of being themselves and making their preferences heard. They freely express their opinions, tell us what to do, and are unapologetic about who they are.

But, as the new #BanBossy campaign explains, by the time girls hit middle school, they are less interested in leadership than boys – because they are afraid of being labeled “bossy.” Read more »

Marvel Makes Real Life Superheroes - Or Should We Say Super-Heroines?

Marvel Comics and Natalie Portman have teamed up with the National Academy of Sciences, Underwriters Laboratories and Dolby Laboratories to give girls some direction into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. They’re calling it the Ultimate Mentor Adventure. That just sounds hardcore.

The Ultimate Mentor Adventure will allow girls in high school to find a mentor - a woman in their area already working in a STEM field. They get tips for contacting and interviewing these awesome women to get the most out of their mentor-mentee experience.

But wait, it gets even more brilliant. They’ve (not so) secretly disguised learning and the empowerment of young girls as a contest. You might say they created a secret identity. Those who partake in the adventure can upload a video of themselves talking about their experience and their love of science. Winners get a trip to LA to attend a screening of Thor: The Dark World and the premiere screening of Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World Ultimate Mentor Adventure documentary short. Read more »

Girls love Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. We just need to let them show it.

Zora Ball
7-year-old Zora Ball (Photo courtesy Harambee Institute.)

This past week, at age seven, first grader Zora Ball became the youngest person to create a mobile application video game. First off, talk about impressive – when I was seven, a successful day included dancing to the Spice Girls on my bed in my pajamas and Dunkaroos in my lunchbox (preferably chocolate). Go Zora!

More importantly, however, let’s use Zora as proof of something really important: that girls can love math and science and be passionate about it, and that programs to show girls that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) can be fun and interesting are vital.

Ball is a first-grader at Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School in Philadelphia, PA. She (and the other students in the STEMnasium learning academy) attend class every Saturday and love it – they even come voluntarily on weekends! The program is even currently teaching students Mandarin Chinese – with the idea that students will complete transactions in Philly’s Chinatown. IN MANDARIN CHINESE.

Zora is proof that when little girls are turned on to STEM, they get into it. Take the toy Roominate – it’s a buildable toy house that kids design and wire themselves. Read more »

Google Gets It: Honoring Mary Leakey

Whenever I open up Google and there’s a new Google Doodle waiting for me, I’m always a little excited – clicking on it always takes me to a short little game to play, or a fun animation, or information on an awesome historical figure I’ve never even heard of.

And this week was no exception – Wednesday brought me this adorable Doodle, honoring Mary Leakey:

Mary Leakey Google Doodle

Image couresty of Google

Mary Leakey was a British archaeologist and anthropologist who discovered the first fossilized skull of Proconsul, an extinct ape now believed to be an ancestor to humans, among a number of other really cool things.

As a kid, Leakey had an adventurous spirit. Her interest in archeology was sparked at a young age, when her family visited Les Eyzies where another archeologist was excavating a cave. When her family moved to France, she found a mentor in Abbe Lemozi, the village priest, who toured caves with Mary to view prehistoric paintings. Read more »

NASA Launches MissionSTEM to Increase Civil Rights Efforts

Source: NASA

Source: NASA

NASA launched the MissionSTEM website to assist NASA grantees in meeting their compliance obligations under the federal civil rights laws and to find ways to “creatively address issues such as attracting and retaining diverse students in STEM,” as NASA’s Administrator, Charles F. Bolden, Jr. stated in a video introducing the new website. In his video remarks and corresponding blog post, Mr. Bolden references the “Moon Speech” given by President Kennedy at Rice University in 1962 (video/text), in which the President announced plans to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade – even when many of the things that were necessary to make that happen had not even been invented yet.

The President acknowledged that the rapid pace of change in our world created new and more challenges – “new ignorance, new problems, new dangers.” However, he proclaimed that “the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.” Read more »

Winnie Cooper Grew Up to be a Pretty Awesome Role Model for Girls in STEM

Math is important. It seeps into our everyday lives in ways we don’t even think about. We all – well, some of us - know the important feeling of triumph after successfully creating and sticking with a budget (when that happens, I personally feel like draping a flag over my shoulders and doing a victory jog around my neighborhood), or decoding important statistics on our own. Not to mention that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers are relatively well-paid, and more women in STEM fields could help close the wage gap between men and women – women make only 77 cents to every dollar men make.

Too many girls steer clear of STEM courses, beginning at an early age. Even though women make up a majority of college and graduate students, only 19% of physics bachelor’s degrees and 16% of master’s degrees in engineering and engineering technologies have gone to women. Girls are presented with a stereotype that girls won’t do well in math from an early age, and 57% believe that they would have to work harder in a STEM career to be taken seriously. Popular chains among teenage girls create t-shirts that advertise that the wearer is “Allergic to Algebra”. Even teachers have bought the hype. High school math teachers tend to rate female students’ math abilities lower than those of their male peers, even when test scores are comparable. In universities, women face blatant sexism and uncomfortably pervasive objectification of women in their departments.

So how do we fix this? Well, for a start, we need more female role models and mentors. In 2005, women made up only 19% of all full-time math faculty! Which is why I’m thanking god for Winnie Cooper. Read more »

NWLC’s Weekly Roundup: August 20 –24

Since we’re smack dab in the middle of back-to-school season, I thought I’d talk about a couple of STEM-related things this week. In case you’re wondering what STEM is, it stands for science, technology engineering and math, and it’s no secret that women are under-represented in those fields. I want to start with a story I caught on Monday – it’s a blog post from Jezebel on Danica McKellar, also known as Winnie Cooper from the TV show The Wonder Years. After The Wonder Years went off the air, McKellar studied mathematics at UCLA and published four math books aimed specifically at girls.

With titles like Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss and Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, the books can initially come off as a little too ditzy for some. I’ve read some blog comments about people wondering whether this is the way we want to try to get girls involved in mathematics and STEM fields, by taking the conversation to a very stereotypically girly place. In McKellar’s latest book, Girls Get Curves, which tackles geometry, she describes some real-world uses of geometry as such:

“Geometry is responsible for the shape of the house you live in, the cars on the road, the shoes on your feet, and even the book in your hands. Diamond rings wouldn't be nearly so sparkly without the study of angles, and your favorite dress wouldn't fit nearly as well without the science of curves.”

When I was studying geometry, I couldn’t have cared less about diamond rings. But, I also had terrible math anxiety and always fell behind most of my classmates in every math class I took. Read more »