#STEMLikeAGirl: Because Dreams Need Doing

By Laura Patterson

On Wednesday, March 18th, over sixty girls from middle and high schools across the city descended on the Academy of Software Engineering for Exploring Careers in STEM: Empowering the Next Gen of Women Leaders. The event was created in order to teach young women about the career paths they can pursue in the STEM space. Participants selected two hour-long sessions to attend before breaking out for pizza and networking. The first hour was dedicated to hands-on demos; students could choose between learning Javascript through Instagram, designing tech for different kinds of people, discussing how hardware and software work together, meditating and learning about how technology can improve the brain and building wearable technology with LED lights. The second set of sessions was conversation-focused. Participants were able to chat about using tech to do good, different types of STEM careers, navigating the college application process, building resumes, starting companies and becoming a female leader.

The students’ faces were aglow with excitement during the hands-on demos. In the meditation session, girls let life’s stressors fade away as they used a brain sensing headband and app to experience how they could train their brains to be clearer and calmer. Girls in the Javascript session turned selfies into stop motion videos with effects after learning about variables, dot notation and other fundamentals of coding. Personas were developed in the workshop on user-centered design; girls created app concepts for users who share similarities with the personas that they had. Learning tech through fashion was a runaway hit; the facilitators led girls through a demo of soft circuits that they could then transform into wearables using LED lights, pompoms, pipe cleaners and other craft supplies. Teachers and students alike were enchanted by that particular session; one teacher shared that her students were blown away by the idea that they could be even more creative in their pursuit of fashion. Girls got down to business for the second hour of the event. In the discussion sessions, girls were able to ask questions and learn about skills, like problem solving and business writing that will prepare them for college and career. Participants in the tech for good session brainstormed ways in which they could use tech to solve environmental issues. As the video above demonstrates, the college application process workshop took students through the nuts and bolts of college admissions and highlighted key organizations and partners in the field that students can work with in order to receive better support during the admissions process, including Science, Technology and Arts at Rensselaer (STAR) at RPI and the Opportunity Network. In Building Your Resume, girls critiqued resumes after seeing exemplars and took home useful tips to improve their CVs.  

The workshops were all the more profound because of their facilitators. Nearly all of the sessions’ leads were women with deep and diverse experiences in STEM, women who have met success in their fields and love their work despite the fact that often times there have not been many others like them at the table.  Alex Meis, co-founder of Kinvolved and facilitator of the workshop on starting companies, spoke of the labeling she felt and the assumptions that were made because of her gender and the many hardships she has encountered as a woman in the tech industry. She went on to impart some thoughtful principles to the students in her session, telling them to always be nice and to be persistent. “Someone is always going to tell you no,” she said to the girls. “For every hundred asks, I received ninety-seven nos. It was worth it for the final three”.  Having the will and patience to hold out for the ‘yes’ is not only the sign of a strong entrepreneur, but it can also signify the strength of a movement. When it comes to bringing women into STEM, it is important to hold both qualities near.  Events like #STEMLikeAGirl bring young women deciding on their futures into the STEM universe, and we cannot wait to see what happens for all of the girls who said ‘yes’ to STEM as a result of having participated.

#STEMLikeAGirl was hosted by The Academy For Software Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the iZone. Many thanks to the wonderful organizations who allowed us to spend the afternoon with their girls: C/I, ScriptEd, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, NFTE New York Metro.

Also, special thanks to the event’s sponsors: Yext and GitHub!

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