While women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, only 29% of them are in the science and engineering workforce, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project.
Montclair State University is hoping to change that statistic and empower high school girls to envision themselves in that broad and growing field.
On May 31, in partnership with the American Association of University Women of New Jersey (AAUW NJ), the University welcomed more than 140 students and educators from high schools throughout New Jersey to attend Teentech – a program of hands-on workshops designed to educate girls about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.
Opening remarks set the stage for the students to dismiss pre-conceived notions STEM.
“It’s not true that you have to be born with analytical and quantitative skills – you don’t have to be born a math wiz,” Karen Brown, AAUW NJ’s project director for Teentech, told the group. “You can learn these skills by practicing, just like you can learn a foreign language.”
This idea of expanding beyond one’s comfort zone was put into practice through workshops, presented by faculty and assistants from the College of Science and Mathematics. Students worked directly with the scientists in small groups on projects ranging from “Stressed Out Plants” and “Probing the Brain,” to “Hands-On Chemistry Experiments” and “Creating Apps.”
“The priority of the College of Science and Mathematics [CSAM] at Montclair State University is to increase diversity enrollment in STEM fields and provide high-quality educational experiences,” said CSAM Dean Lora Billings. “Our partnership with the AAUW provides ways for women to learn about STEM opportunities and actively encourages them to pursue these fields.”
Many of the students who came to the event with specific academic and career interests found that the workshops broadened their thinking to include fields they hadn’t been aware of. Others, like Ayiana Cabarete from Bloomfield High School, came to Teentech with a general interest in biology, but an open mind regarding the specific career. She attended a workshop titled “Contagious Town Meeting – Infectious Diseases” where she learned about the spread of disease epidemics. “This isn’t something I thought about before,” she said, but may now consider this direction.