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Workshop Calls Young Girls to STEM Fields

Workshop Calls Young Girls to STEM Fields

03/24/2015 

The number of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is growing, but men continue to outnumber them, especially in engineering, computer science and physics.

An upcoming event for young girls hosted at SUNY Cortland aims to narrow the gap by educating youngsters in sixth through ninth grades and their families about STEM education and possible career paths. The College will host Tech Savvy on Saturday, March 28, a workshop sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

The event takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Sperry Center and Bowers Hall. Registration costs $5 for each student and adult who attends, although adult registration is optional. That fee includes breakfast and lunch as well as t-shirts and water bottles for all students.

“In grades six through nine, girls begin thinking about careers and thinking about college,” said Sheila Cohen, one of the event’s organizers and a SUNY Cortland associate professor emerita of literacy. “It’s a very critical period when they can focus on higher education and a STEM career or just as easily turn away from them, thinking they’re not competent.”

According to the “Why So Few?” report from the AAUW, girls and boys take math and science courses in roughly equal numbers through high school, and approximately as many girls as boys graduate high school prepared to pursue science and engineering majors in college. But among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to pursue a STEM major.

By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some — such as physics, engineering or computer science — women will earn only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees.

“So many messages out there seem to suggest the notion that females are not adequate or that they should not pursue certain professions,” Cohen said. “We’re trying to change that perception.”

The SUNY Cortland conference is one of 15 Tech Savvy events taking place across the nation, modeled after a successful program born at the University of Buffalo nine years ago. Girls will be able to pick three interactive and informative sessions to attend from more than a dozen offerings in addition to a Savvy Skills Workshop.

Session titles include “Creating Web Pages from Scratch,” “What’s the Big Deal about Pi?” and “Penny-Powered Pictures,” which creates pictures with LED lights and uses the metal in pennies to power the lights. Workshop topics include “Girl Talk: Social Media, Self Esteem and Positive Communication,” “No, This Is Not My Boyfriend’s Computer: Careers for Women in (Information Technology)” and “Follow Your STEM Dreams.”

A full list of presentation topics is available on the conference’s webpage.

Presenters will include women in engineering and medical professions as well as local educators and more than a dozen SUNY Cortland faculty and staff members. Pam Kavalesky, an engineer at Intertek who works on cancer-detecting equipment, will serve as keynote speaker.

The College’s presenters are: Christa Chatfield, assistant professor of biological sciences; Susana Davidenko, associate professor of childhood/early childhood education; Gretchen Douglas, librarian in Memorial Library; Karen Downey, assistant professor of chemistry; Mary Gfeller, associate professor of mathematics; Gayle Gleason, associate professor of geology; Katherine Hicks, assistant professor of chemistry; Rena Janke, associate professor of biological sciences; Li Jin, assistant professor of geology; Caroline Kaltefleiter, professor of communication studies; Anita Kuiken, senior assistant librarian in Memorial Library; Melissa Morris, assistant professor of physics; Janet Ochs, lecturer in Memorial Library; and Kelly Russo, an adolescence education: biology major from Yonkers, N.Y.

While young girls attend the conference’s sessions and workshops, adults can learn more about choosing STEM majors and classes as well as college and career searches. They also will be able to tour Bowers Hall, SUNY Cortland’s recently renovated science building.

“The main thing we’re looking to do is inspire the young girls who come in,” Cohen said. “We want to raise their confidence and their awareness so they know what’s available to them.”

For more information on the event, visit the Tech Savvy webpage.

Questions can be directed by email.