STEMpowering Our Girls

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Mary Anne Porto '16

Often we hear about how women, even as little girls, are not encouraged to achieve or pursue their goals, how the connotations of being a girl influences women, and how these gaps between males and females have put women on a road of obstacles where they must prove that they are not just “girls” to reach goals that are perceived as roles or jobs that mostly men do. Of course, this portrayal may exaggerate how disastrous being a women is—considering that in the U.S. men and women are legally considered equal—but even if this were not a problem, the lack of women entering the STEM field asks, why is this happening?

Last year, a program called Women in STEM started at Loomis Chaffee. From a discussion to an alumni discussion panel, the women in the STEM program spread awareness about the opportunities available for women interested in entering fields in science and math. Organized by Ms. Amanda Holland, math teacher; Mrs. Andrea Straccia, former college counselor; and Ms. Ashley Hansberry, math teacher, the Women in STEM program was open for students to attend. As a fellow participant, I think this program was also a great opportunity to learn about what it means to enter the STEM fields as a woman. This year, this fantastic program has been dubbed the STEM Career Talk Program.

Before I go any further, I would like to talk about what exactly the STEM fields are. An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, STEM includes careers ranging from computer science to agricultural technology. Part of the reason these academic disciplines were grouped together was to recognize that there are not enough skilled workers to work in these fields.

Although the initiative began last year, the program has already offered many opportunities to learn about what it means to be a woman entering the STEM field. During the first event, we discussed stereotypes about women in science and math. Recognizing the effect of media, and the global perspective about women in STEM, the event was the springboard that transitioned into the alumni panel held on February 22, 2015. While the first event had brought up the fact that women are often not encouraged to go into STEM fields and that social assumptions can hinder these encouragements, the panel gave insight into what it’s like to be a woman in a STEM field.

The arrival of Christina (Stenman) Liebel 99, Molly Flanagan 01, and Colleen Murphy 06, the three panelists, allowed for further discussion of this important topic, women in STEM. These impressive women, one of whom became the first woman to hold the title of Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Office of General Services’ Design and Construction Group, offered great advice, shared their experiences, and weighed in about the gender disparity in STEM giving a great presentation on how being a woman in a STEM field is possible. Inspiring and enlightening, the program fulfilled its goal of not only allowing girls to learn about women in STEM, but also encouraging girls to take initiative if they are so inclined. In fact, the panelists were adamant in encouraging the audience to pursue their interests.

The program concluded the year with a presentation of “The Light, Arm Loss, and Arm Damage on the Burrowing Behavior of Starfish” by Mrs. Jaci Cardwell, which offered a great example of how pursuing our passion does not have to wait. The all-around empowering message that this program cast over the audience will continue this year, hoping to eradicate the stigma facing women in science and math fields even if that stigma is not present in the Loomis Chaffee community. From the great events that this program offered last year, I cannot wait to see how this inspiring initiative progresses.