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STEM Conference Helps Marginalized Girls to Thrive

January 20, 2015 —

Even in the 21st century, girls — especially low-income  girls and girls of color — are still dissuaded from pursuing classes and careers in science, technology, education and math (STEM). Peers, family members and even teachers may send subtle or not-so-subtle messages to girls from an early age that building computers or becoming an astronaut is not for them. 

“Front and Center: Bringing Marginalized Girls into Focus in STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE),” a conference held at Georgetown Law on January 15, addressed many of the challenges and potential solutions to broaden access to these fields. The event, sponsored by Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, the White House Domestic Policy Council and Council on Women and Girls, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, brought together federal, state and local agencies, the private sector, academics and more. 

Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama who chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, described how the president and the council is working to help women and girls to thrive. Women now make up half of the workforce and are graduating from college and graduate school at higher rates than men, she noted. Yet women and girls of color are still underrepresented in STEM classes and STEM fields. 

“The president set a national goal to graduate one million more STEM college degree holders over the next decade,” Jarrett said. “In order to reach this goal, we’re going to have to change the narrative in this country about who is supposed to grow up dreaming to become a scientist, an astronaut or an engineer.”

Who should be able to have such dreams? Women like Dr. Aprille Ericsson, an aerospace engineer at NASA, who described her education and career path in a luncheon keynote address — with the help of her 6-year-old daughter, who is currently in a STEM school. 

Other stories were equally compelling: a student at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy described her goals of a career in biotech. A young electrical installation teacher at Queens Vocational High School recalled how, as a student, boys in her class tried to discourage her because of her gender.  While technologies change quickly, attitudes may not: UCLA’s Jane Margolis described how, in the 1970s, she became one of the first women telephone installers as a result of an affirmative action program. The job, which she loved, involved climbing telephone poles. “I ended up staying seven years,” she said. 

“All over America, there’s a growing recognition among leaders in government, research and business that the strength of our economy in this century depends on our ability to educate youth in STEM and do better in workforce development,” said Professor Peter Edelman, who directs the Georgetown Center. “Too often, low income girls and girls of color are left out of the conversation and…left out of the opportunities that STEM and CTE can bring to them, to their communities, and to our country. Everybody here is committed to change that.”

A webcast may be viewed here. 

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