Young girls embrace science, technology through campus program

February 27, 2013 9:00 AM

Cody Wild

It was a typical winter morning with only the occasional sunbeam breaking through the drizzle, but the occupants of many of the science classrooms and labs at Tulane University were anything but typical. Gone for the weekend were the usual harried undergrads, and in their place were 120 middle school girls, hailing from 39 area schools, here to take part in the inaugural GIST (Girls in STEM at Tulane) program, held on Saturday (Feb. 23). (STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)


With guidance from Tulane student volunteers, middle-school girls explore the relationship of the virtual and the physical world through software programs that create an "augmented reality" at the Collat Media Lab of the Newcomb College Institute. (Photo by Tracie Morris Schaefer)

The event was spearheaded by evolutionary biology professor Donata Henry with support from two public service interns, and it marshaled coordination with eight other STEM disciplines, including computer science, marine biology, psychology and chemical engineering.

For the attendees, the day consisted of three workshops ranging in content from the use of Photoshop to create augmented reality to the study of strategic calculations based on the hopping of frogs.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, women hold 50 percent of jobs across the economy, but only 25 percent of STEM-sector positions. Studies suggest this divergence starts early and is a product of differing levels of interest and confidence, rather than gaps in ability.

Among younger boys and girls, equal percentages — roughly two-thirds — express an interest in science, but, whether due to social pressures, cultural images and lack of role models, those numbers begin to diverge in middle school, and do so more dramatically during high school.

Cognizant of these trends and inspired this past summer by a similar program being orchestrated by Yale University, Henry sought and received a Newcomb College Institute community engagement grant to fund this program, geared at boosting girls’ engagement with and curiosity for science while they “are still open-minded.”

Henry believes that involving more women in STEM will benefit the field as a whole. “Women are creative, they are idea-generators. More diversity at the table leads to a greater diversity of ideas,” she said. 

Cody Wild is a Tulane junior majoring in economics.


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