IWITTS Celebrates Its 20-Year Anniversary!

A note from Donna: Like Rosie the Riveter, “We Can Do It!”

I’m happy to share with you that IWITTS recently celebrated our 20th anniversary as an organization. So have we fulfilled our mission, to help educators nationwide close the gender gap for women and girls in technology? We’ve made tremendous strides, but there is still so much work to be done.

I have personally worked with inspiring educators like Barbara Dufrain, a computer programming professor who attended a WomenTech Educators Training. In less than a year following the training, Professor Dufrain increased her female enrollment by 62% and increased the retention of her female and male students by 45%.

Our Proven Practices Collection on the IWITTS website now contains over 100 journal articles and case studies with proven strategies from programs which have increased the number of female students in STEM programs around the country. In our own CalWomenTech Project, community colleges received expert support and technical assistance to help recruit and retain women into technology programs where they were under-represented. The Project was highlighted by the National Science Foundation for demonstrating significant achievement and program effectiveness.

The exciting news is that in the 20 years since I’ve founded this organization we’ve identified what works and we have more tools than ever to teach the knowledgebase to a growing number of educators and to support them in implementation. We now have real time training, online training, webinars, support for implementation, posters and banners with female role models and so much more! We have the secrets to successfully recruiting and retaining women and girls in STEM, and our retention strategies work for male students too. However, we aren’t reaching enough educators, administrators and counselors.

Just last week I conducted a WomenTech Educators Training for a very engaged group of IT instructors from across the state of California (and half of the participants were male – yay!). Yet, many of my recruitment and retention secrets were completely new information to them. Why are our secrets still secrets in 2014? During the break, a male IT instructor – who also works in industry – said to me, “I now understand the differences between female and male learning styles, wow, what a difference that makes to me both as a teacher and in my workplace.” My goal for the next 20 years is for our recruitment and retention secrets to not to be secrets anymore. We must expand our work and scale up so that our recruitment and retention secrets are not just held by separate and special programs for women and girls in STEM but instead are the domain of the mainstream education system at all school levels.

So I am asking for your help in expanding our audience. Please help us help educators unlock the secrets to recruiting and retaining female students by doing the following:

1) Send your colleagues this link to my free report: “How to Recruit Women & Girls to the STEM Classroom”

In this special report, you will discover:

  • The top secret to increasing the number of women in your classes
  • Examples of successful outreach campaigns and what made them work
  • Key messages female students need to hear that will get them interested in your STEM programs
  • And much more

Share this link: http://www.iwitts.org/free/white-paper

2) Join the conversation and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/iwitts.

3) Attend our next WomenTech Educators Online Training with your team

At the training, you’ll develop recruitment and retention action plans to increase the number of female students in STEM programs. Come as a team: the more educators you can train in your department, region, or state, the more likely you are to have significant increases in female students in your school’s STEM programs, as well as lasting institutional change.

Find out more about the Online Training

I’m grateful to the IWITTS community – thousands of educators from around the country – who have partnered with us and worked with each other to implement these proven strategies in their classrooms, programs, districts, regions and states. From adjunct instructors to college presidents, and counselors, advisors, administrators, and many others, I’m continually inspired by the dedication of educators who care deeply about ensuring that female students have unlimited potential to pursue rewarding, fulfilling careers in STEM. It’s up to us to ensure that the secrets to recruiting and retaining women (and men) in STEM won’t be secrets anymore.

Like Rosie the Riveter said, “We can do it!”

 

STEM, Girls and the Importance of Storytelling

By Guest Blogger: Amy Leask, Vice President of Enable Education

Amy Leask & Friends

For cultures like the ancient Greeks, arts and sciences weren’t polar opposites, but rather all part of the process of finding one’s way in the universe.  Astronomers, chemists, biologists and inventors didn’t view their subjects with just the objective, analytical eye of a technician, but also with the sensibilities of a poet and a historian.  They were interested in how things worked and how they could be manipulated, but they also prized the stories behind things, as well as how they affected the way people lived and thought.

A similar approach is being used by 21st Century educators to draw girls and young women into STEM.  Traditionally speaking, girls and women have been encouraged to think in terms of communication, relationships between things, and general context. Instead of focusing on the “What” and “How” of STEM, female learners tend to be engaged more in these subjects if the discussion includes “Who”, “When” and “Why”.  In other words, girls and women are being invited to tell the story of STEM, past, present and future.  Storytelling is just one of the many ways in which STEM educators can include more “female” ways of learning.

Here are a number of ways in which storytelling can be incorporated into STEM subjects:

  • Discoveries, advancements and innovations don’t just occur by themselves, but are the product of individual people.  Famous minds in STEM, both past and present, often have rich and fascinating stories around them, such as how people became involved, what made them notable, and how they were able to overcome obstacles.  Studying the stories of the individuals behind the theories and experiments gives a human context to STEM, which is something that female learners are conditioned to look for.  This practice is also beneficial because it tells the story of the many women who have been instrumental in STEM for centuries.
  • Along similar lines, learners are being encouraged to examine the sociological story surrounding STEM.  As no discovery or development occurs in a vacuum, it’s crucial to understand that STEM is meant to serve human need, and that it ultimately impacts every aspect of how people within a culture live and think.  This, again, plays into the traditionally “female” practice of learning by examining relationships.
  • Aside from STEM history, educators are also teaching specific theories and even doing experiments with the help of storytelling techniques such as storyboards, role-playing, and even the creation of digital media.  Imagine learning about the behaviour of a virus through verse, learning to code by role-playing, or writing an original song about how atoms behave.
  • Science fiction has always been an exciting forum in which to anticipate the future of STEM.  True, it has traditionally been seen as a male-dominated genre, but there are a large number of well-known female writers.  If all else fails, there’s always room for the next budding female author.

The inclusion of storytelling is just one part of STEM education becoming STEAM (with arts) and more recently, STREAM (with reading and writing).  Blending literacy and communication skills development into STEM benefits girls and women in that it validates skill sets that have traditionally been labelled as female, and brings a new perspective to these subject areas.  Moreover, storytelling makes STEM more inclusive, appealing to younger children and to male learners who might otherwise not be as interested.  Overall, learning to not just do STEM, but to talk about it, read about it and even be creative with it makes for well-rounded learners who are more ready to take on the challenges of STEM careers.

Amy Leask is VP of Enable Education and Founder of KidsThinkAboutIt.com.  She is an educator and author who believes that learning is learning, and that a complete education includes a little of every subject area.  Her professional interests include STEM/STEAM/STEAM education, 21st century learning, whole child education and educational technology.

Comments are Working

Update: I’m happy to announce that the problem that was preventing comments from posting to the blog has been fixed, so all posts are once again open for commenting. Again, I really apologize if you posted a comment in March or April that did not make it onto the blog. Please repost your comment now and I look forward to responding. ~Donna

A Tribute to Women Pioneers and the Women that Follow in Their Footsteps

Oulekemi (Kemi) Macaulay-Newman

Today I heard an interview with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor about her new book, Out of Order. Retired Justice O’Connor talked about how hard it was to find a job as a female attorney in 1950 when she graduated from Stanford Law School because no one wanted to hire a woman. She applied to 40 different law firms and was unable to get a single interview even though she was among the top graduates in her class at Stanford. She eventually met a public official with attorneys on staff who agreed to hire her, but told her that he had no more funds for the budget year and didn’t have an office for her. She offered to work for free until some dollars became available and said that she would be willing to share space with his secretary, if his secretary would agree to this. Retired Justice O’Connor got her first job as an attorney by working for free and sharing office space with a secretary, but she went on to become the first woman Supreme Court Justice. She was a pioneer and like other pioneers she was unwilling to take no for an answer. I had the privilege of meeting her in 1990 when she was still on the court and I was a WREI fellow on Capitol Hill.

I have the greatest respect and admiration for pioneering women like Sandra Day O’Connor who are some of the first to enter a career or field. Pioneers have jumped through hoops and opened doors for women in legal fields, medicine, law enforcement, the trades and STEM. The stories of these women pioneers are inspirational, moving, and important to celebrate during Women’s History Month. And I am fortunate to count a number of pioneers among my close friends.

However, I also equally admire the women who follow behind the pioneers. They may not be the first woman in their field or in their position, but they are still the first on their worksite, the first among their friends, the first in their family or just one of very few. Many of these women have the same kind of tenacity that drove Sandra Day O’Connor to succeed, and they are also leading the way for the women and girls that come after them. I would like to recognize all of these women today in this post. The women who make up 11.5% of engineers in the US, 7.5% of installation and maintenance repair workers, 1.6% of automotive service technicians, 20% of computer software engineers, and so forth.

I’ve been privileged to know many women making their own way in male-dominated fields. I’d like to recognize one in particular – Oulekemi (Kemi) Macaulay-Newman. She was an intern at IWITTS many years ago and she now consults nationally on IT security. Originally from Nigeria, she came to the U.S. when she was 14, studied computer science at a local community college, graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics from UC Berkeley, and went on to get a degree in IT security at John Hopkins. Today, at 28, she juggles her roles of IT security professional, business owner (House of Botori), mom to a three-year-old son, wife and daughter. Kemi is not a pioneer – she is not one of the first women to be successful in IT security – but she is still one of very few and she has overcome many challenges to get where she is today. I am proud to be her junior mom in the African tradition and I am proud of ALL the women forging the path for the others that are coming behind them. During this Women’s History Month I would like to recognize women like Kemi who are working in fields where they are still underrepresented – and forging the path for others.

Do you have a woman you’d like to celebrate, please post her story on my blog, I’d love to hear about her.

King Peggy: first woman King in Ghana

I want to highly recommend the book, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village. I was so moved by the story of Peggielene Bartels, an American secretary for the Ghanaian Embassy who is selected to be king of the small Ghanaian fishing village she was originally from. She agrees to be the king, which is an unpaid position, while continuing her life and job duties in the United States only to find out that the village elders selected her because they want to be able to continue to siphon money away from the community to their personal pockets. King Peggy transforms this small fishing village of 7,000 by standing up to the elders, and using taxes to bring clean water to the village and education to the children. She navigates the male-dominated world of being a king and holds her ground while maintaining her femininity and respecting the traditions of the elders. King Peggy was not raised to be king, yet she figures out how to do so by drawing upon her inner fortitude and religion during difficult moments. Peggielene Bartels proves what a successful king a woman can be.

I’m blogging about King Peggy on Valentine’s Day because this book is really about her love for her people and by the end of the book you can’t help but fall in love with her. She is an amazing woman and very approachable king. I was able to contact her on her Facebook page and I was thrilled when she responded. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

As A Woman Who Loves Science, I Approve This Message

http://www.upworthy.com/as-a-woman-who-loves-science-i-approve-this-message

Just a quick note to share with you this little video developed in France to interest more girls in STEM (the video is in English). Its message is one I’ve worked hard to get across: More women in STEM fields means more products and services that take women into account! When women aren’t represented on design teams and research groups we end up with crash test dummies based on the male body and prescription pills that haven’t been properly tested on women. It’s crucial that women work in STEM, so that STEM fields remember to take women into account. We need more videos like this one in the US! Who is up to the challenging of making one?

STEM Students Must be Taught to Fail

Plan A B

In November, US News and World Report ran a story entitled, “STEM Students Must Be Taught to Fail: Failure will teach students to take the risks necessary for innovation.” I took note because in my WomenTech Educators retention training, I teach STEM educators to teach their students to fail and I go into some detail on how to accomplish this. Learning how to fail is especially important for female students, who have often been culturally conditioned to be perfectionists. Ironically, their desire to get the “right” answer the first time can impede their ability to experiment, fail, try again, and eventually come up with the real right answer. Successful STEM students must learn to try a solution, get it wrong, and try again because this is a fundamental element of the science and technology experimentation process they must master to be successful in their STEM courses and career. According to the US News and World Report story, this unwillingness to take a risk and make a mistake is a problem that impacts both female and male students – and sometimes even their instructors. STEM educators, I’d love to hear from you if you teach your students how to fail: How do you do it? BTW, my next WomenTech Educators Training will be online and starts February 25, 2013. Don’t miss the early bird registration ending next week on January 11, 2013.

Can girls learn STEM skills by playing house?

Have you noticed that there are very few games for girls that teach STEM skills?  This is a huge missed opportunity because STEM skills learned through informal play translate into STEM skills in the classroom and an interest in science, technology, engineering and math! Recently, I was very upset to learn that PicoCrickets – MIT Lab’s more feminine alternative to the very masculine Lego Mindstorms – was discontinued. While Lego Mindstorms teach robotics and computer programming with monsters, PicoCrickets taught the same skills by making a cake sing and a cat purr. We have research in our online Proven Practices Collection that shows girls love PicoCrickets and they are effective in teaching STEM skills.

So I was really excited to come across a new toy called Roominate that puts a new spin on playing house. Girls learn how to not only the build the house with custom parts they also learn how to wire it with circuits. It was developed by three young female engineers who put it on Kickstarter to raise funds for its launch: Instead of receiving $25,000 as hoped, they received $85,965. I’m so happy that others see the value of this game too!  If you’d like to read more about Roominate and see a video about them visit the Smithsonian blog.

Another new toy for girls that I read about recently is called “GoldieBlox”. GoldieBlox, developed by a female engineer from Stanford, is a construction toy and book series starring Goldie, a kid inventor who loves to build. As girls read along with the story, they use the construction set to learn the same kinds of building and problem solving skills that boys tend to learn with Legos and Erector sets. You can read more about Goldie Blox, and the Kickstarter campaign that’s funding it, in this article from the Atlantic.

These toys remind me of one of the SciGirls videos: Get Tech, which has a segment called “High Tech Fashion”. The SciGirls, a group of real middle school girls, teams up with fashion designer Diana Eng to create a high tech evening dress, using circuits of blinking LEDs and electroluminescent wire.

My prediction is that when we have as many games that teach STEM skills that appeal to girls as we do for boys, we will have as many girls as boys interested in STEM.

Do you know of games that appeal to girls that teach STEM skills? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about them.

Having more women involved in the auto industry is a life or death matter

Can you believe that in 2012 the majority of car crash test dummies are men?  This means that the crash test ratings you may have read from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are unreliable if you are a woman.  A 2010 study by the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics found that seat-belted female drivers in actual crashes had a 47% higher chance of serious injuries than belted male drivers. That percentage goes up to 71% for crashes resulting in moderate injuries. Only since 2011 has the federal government replaced some male dummies with female dummies for crash tests. However female dummies are still not tested in the driver’s seat in frontal crash tests, even though most fatalities are from frontal crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the reason for this is that men drive more and die in greater numbers than female drivers. Yet in 2010, women were 44.1% of primary car buyers.

Because women are smaller in height compared to men, they are closer to the dashboard and this is why it’s so important to have female dummies. Additionally, women’s bodies are different; they have weaker necks for example. First generation air bags from 1998 disproportionately injured those under 5’4”, predominantly women and children, because male dummies were used. Why in 2012 are women still being left out of the picture?

I believe it’s because women are not well represented in the auto industry. Only 2.8% of car dealerships are owned by women, they make up only 11.5% corporate officers in the Motor Vehicles and parts industry, and 12.4% on board of directors. In 2010 women made up only 13% of the automotive sales workforce and 1.4% of automotive technicians. I was not able to find the percentage of women in auto design nationally, however I would venture to guess it’s not high.

To hear more about women in the auto industry listen to a radio show I participated in on National Public Radio.

Personally I believe increasing the number of women in the auto industry is a life or death matter. What do you think?

Creating a Work-Around for Recruiting Women to STEM

I don’t know how many times I have talked to educators who told me they have tried to increase the number of women in STEM but their efforts just didn’t work, so they stopped trying.  “What did you do?” I’ll say. “Oh we put up a flyer,” or “We had an open house that few women came to,” is often the kind of response I get.  Well, I know that there are at least 24 major evidence-based recruitment strategies they might have tried.  (I know this from the STEM Program Readiness Assessment for Women and Girls that we are developing.  Look out for more about the Assessment coming soon!)

It’s interesting to me, the same technology educators who might stay up all night trying to figure out how to make a computer program work, and are very familiar with the world of work-a-rounds, just give up when the first thing they try doesn’t work to recruit more women or girls to STEM. Why is that? I’d love your comments and thoughts about this.

PS  If you’d like to learn what those 24 strategies are, check out our online training.