Merlene Davis: Workshop features role models to encourage girls interested in science, technology and math

Herald-Leader columnistApril 30, 2014 

  • Kentucky Tech Savvy workshop

    What: For middle school girls interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Sponsored by the Bluegrass Central branch of the American Association of University Women.

    When: 8:15 a.m. May 17.

    Where: Kentucky State University's Exum Athletic Center, 400 E. Main St., Frankfort.

    Registration: Deadline is May 6. Visit Bluegrass-ky.aauw.net to register.

    Cost: $5 each for parents and child.

When my sister was young, she declared to our parents that she wanted to be a doctor.

Our brother, the oldest, had shown signs of becoming an engineer early on, his eventual career. Our father helped him design and drive Soap Box Derby cars to fuel that dream.

With my sister, their second child, my parents paid for private Latin classes during the summer, in which she was the only pupil, and they tolerated her love of dissecting critters. She didn't become a doctor, but she did earn a medical technology degree, working at the corporate level as well as in blood banking.

Looking back now, I realize our parents equally encouraged my brother's interest in engineering — which was acceptable for boys — and my sister's interest in science — which was unacceptable for girls.

Knowing that, I think my parents probably would have been among the first to register my sister, along with her kid sister, for Kentucky Tech Savvy, a one-day hands-on workshop for middle school girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It will be held at Kentucky State University on May 17.

Hosted by the Bluegrass Central branch of the American Association of University Women, the workshop for girls in sixth through eighth grades is the group's way of emphasizing the importance of encouraging more girls to explore those fields.

Middle school tends to be the time when girls shy away from studying engineering, computers and the sciences. The national association sought reasons for that trend through research in 2010 called "Why So Few: Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics."

What the association found were environmental and social barriers that discouraged girls. Those barriers included "stereotypes, gender bias and the climate of science and engineering departments in colleges and universities."

Ellen Nolan, the incoming state association president who helped write the grant to bring Tech Savvy here, said some of the research also found that girls don't see enough women in STEM fields to make those occupations seem welcoming.

The presenters at Tech Savvy are women who work at AllTech, Toyota Motor Manufacturing USA, Lockheed Martin Corp. and other industries, Nolan said. "We feel if we can present them with role models, the girls will see other women do it and think, 'So can I,'" she said.

The hands-on sessions for the girls include "Bugging out over water quality," "Airplane building blocks from A to Z," "DNA testing," "Traveling electrons," "What's a Statapult and how do I use it?," "What charges your iPhone?," "Food mapping," and "A taste of Python programming: Disease epidemic and food mapping."

College representatives will be on hand with information. There also will be workshops for parents to help them support the girls as they explore a career in a technical field, Nolan said.

Danette Wilder, president and chief executive officer of SealingLife Technology, a local custom sealing and packing manufacturer and distributor, will discuss how to guide your child when you have no background in the field she wants to enter.

One workshop for parents, Nolan said, is about paying for college, and another is how to help with homework.

After lunch, the students and parents together will hear Abigail Mueller, CEO of Abigail Academy in Louisville, who will help them think about their goals and where they'd like to be, in "Connecting your head and your heart."

"We know that it's critical to have parents and others involved in understanding what the future offers in these career areas," Nolan said. "Women have historically been underrepresented in the STEM careers, and here in the Bluegrass we're looking forward to showing girls and their families what broad possibilities exist for their futures."

Kentucky Tech Savvy is based on conferences started in New York in 2006 by the association's Buffalo chapter. Kentucky was one of only 10 states to receive the grant to start a program. Local organizers hope to make this an annual event.

The program starts with breakfast at 8:15 a.m., and workshops start at 9 a.m. A box lunch will be served. The cost is $5 each for adults and children. Registration is required. You can register on-line at bluegrass-ky.aauw.net. Deadline is Tuesday.

"Boys already feel like they can do STEM," Nolan said. "They've been pointed that way all their lives, starting with their toys. This program is just for girls. Our branch really wanted to make a difference in this community."

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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