NWHM Board Member Cheri Kaufman gave a presentation at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations. You can read her remarks at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/you-want-a-better-world-go-create-it_us_57cef82ee4b0eb9a57b64234.
Archive for October, 2016
In 1940, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, educated in her native China and the United States, overcame both gender and racial barriers to receive her Ph.D. in physics. Shortly thereafter, Wu was invited to work on the Manhattan Project to conduct research on uranium enrichment and radiation detection. And if that was not enough, she later found experimental evidence against the long standing theory of conservation of parity. Her two male colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for research made possible by her discovery, but Wu was ignored. Why?
Over the last century, great strides have been made in the United States to equalize the status of women and open the doors of opportunity that have been closed to them for most of history. Yet somehow these strides in STEM fields have fallen woefully short. This is one of the great ironies of women’s history. In the past several years there has been a sense of urgency to get young women and girls interested in science early. But as recently as the mid-twentieth century, women in science were so ostracized that they were not recognized for groundbreaking, sometimes Nobel Prize-winning, work.
But Wait, there’s More!
Wu’s story is just one of several that we have allowed to slip through the proverbial cracks. Dr. Esther Lederberg was a microbiologist credited with discovering the lambda bacteriophage—a virus that infects bacteria. With her husband, Joshua, she also developed a method to move bacterial colonies between petri dishes. Joshua Lederberg and his male colleagues received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1958. But like Wu, Esther was not recognized for her contributions.
Sometimes women’s scientific contributions are not as obviously overlooked. Dr. Nettie Stevens (whose birthday was honored in a July 7th Google Doodle this year) was a geneticist during the turn of the twentieth century. She was among the first to argue that sex determination in certain organisms (including humans) is determined by chromosomes. This discovery was not widely accepted in the scientific community until other scientists published similar findings. Edmund Wilson came to similar conclusions in his own experiments, and prominent geneticist, Thomas Hunt Morgan, wrote a textbook confirming Stevens’ findings but did not credit her for the discovery.
That was Then, This is Now
While the numbers are improving, there are still considerable disparities along both gender and ethnic/socioeconomic lines.Many experts argue that the key to inspiring the next generation of women to pursue STEM careers is to give them role models to whom they can look for inspiration. Women like Wu, Lederberg, and Stevens are just the people for the job. But for women and girls to be inspired by their handling of adversity and achievements, their stories need to be told. One of the ways we can tell these stories is through a museum dedicated to women’s history. Not only would such an institution tell the untold stories of women in STEM, but of those in politics, the arts, sports, and social change, to name a few.
By Catherine C. Veal
In my 34 years working to develop diverse talent in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, many have addressed why STEM education is important, especially for girls. A good “one stop shop” is the Women in STEM resource library of The Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President, https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/women.
To build on this, meet three collegiate undergraduates who are rising STEM stars – confident, fearless young women already excelling in fields still largely dominated by men. Their contributions and achievements illustrate what is possible when girls can access high quality STEM education.
Kendell Byrd studies computer science and economics at Swarthmore College, has interned as a software engineer at Jawbone, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Facebook HQ, and was profiled by Women of Silicon Valley.
Drake University neuroscience major Sarah Martin, first runner-up in the Eduzine Global ACE Young Achiever 2016 competition, conducts scientific research in ALS and is building an assistive device that allows people living with the disease to shower more safely.
Yale University computer science major Summer Wu develops apps and wins hackathons, this year the Capital One Summit for Software Engineers Hackathon for her Android app Splitter which uses optical character recognition to parse receipts and split the bill for groups.
The trio reflects on high quality STEM education, what is key for girls, and why it matters.
Wu stresses the importance of well educated, well trained, passionate teachers, up to date facilities and equipment, and opportunities beyond the classroom including learning in real-world settings. The latter is key, Byrd says. In high school, she relished “Inquiry Days,” one day a week where instead of regular classes, students conducted research in university laboratories, interned for a start-up, or designed their own projects.
Martin says exposing students to high quality learning experiences may instill a passion that leads to STEM career choices. For girls who already like STEM, this helps them believe they can succeed in these careers, key to reducing gender gaps.
Girls in particular need encouragement at an early age, Wu says, given that subsequent environments are “less than conducive” to helping them achieve their full potential in STEM. She points to a summer program at Northwestern University when she was in middle school. In the mornings, students did labs to introduce new subjects; in the afternoons, they discussed key takeaways and learned new material. “Every day, I felt like my understanding of how the world worked increased tenfold, and I credit that experience for making chemistry my favorite subject when I got to high school years later,” she said.
Empowering young girls with differentiated experiences also opens doors. In the 4th grade, Martin’s teacher let her teach science class sometimes because she was so advanced. “I made my lesson plans and even assigned and graded homework. It helped me become passionate about science at a young age.”
For girls who do not like STEM or who prefer the arts and humanities, Byrd points to how STEM intersects with other areas. With a strong background in STEM, “these girls will be even more well-rounded, open minded, and stronger in their arts and humanities careers.” Martin concurs, noting “interdisciplinary integration” is needed in all kinds of situations and careers. Wu concludes: “STEM teaches students a systematic, logical way of thinking that is beneficial for all of our future leaders, no matter what field they choose to specialize in.”
Author’s Note: These women are alumni of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL, a public residential institution that enrolls students in grades 10-12 who are talented and interested in STEM. To learn more, visit www.imsa.edu.
Catherine C. Veal is a founding administrator of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy where she worked from 1986 to 2015 in various leadership roles.
These young scientists are building on an important history of early pioneers who were not always recognized for their contributions. Read about them here. >>
Oct 15th and Nov 13th at 11am
Learn more about women’s roles during the Civil War in Alexandria, Virginia. Alexandria was in a unique position during the Civil War. It was a city with Southern sympathies continuously occupied by the Union Army and virtually operating as a Northern supply depot due to its proximity to Washington, DC and its transportation infrastructure. The women who remained in Alexandria and those who came during occupation experienced the War not as a battle but a day-to-day way of life. This tour will explore the stories of a diverse group of women and their experiences living in Civil War Alexandria. To buy tickets please visit: http://www.nwhm.org/get-involved/events/walking-tours.