Highlighting Leaders to Empower Connecticut’s Future STEM Workforce

IF/THEN: An Initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies
The Connecticut Science Center is an IF/THEN Gender Equity Grant recipient. Twenty-six ASTC-member museums received funding to launch projects aimed at increasing the representation of women and gender minorities in STEM across their museums’ content. This grant program is supported by the IF/THEN Initiative, a national effort sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers while creating a culture shift in how the world perceives women in STEM.

This year, the Connecticut Science Center received an IF/THEN® Gender Equity Grant from ASTC, and it has played a pivotal role in the development of our programming over the past several months. A commitment to inspiring younger generations to pursue STEM careers drives all of our work. We are responsible for providing our community with engaging programs, events, and exhibits that develop team-oriented thinkers and communicators prepared to join the companies and industries that have made our state an innovation hub. Carefully woven into this mindset is an understanding that STEM is for all, so we strive to address the disparity of underrepresented populations in science fields by dismantling barriers and increasing access to STEM education for Connecticut students and families. The IF/THEN® Gender Equity Grant has helped fortify our Women in Science program and STEM Career exhibit spotlights, creating opportunities for youth to learn from a diverse group of STEM leaders through online digital content and our exhibits, all amid a global pandemic.  

Under normal circumstances, the Women in Science program offers unique opportunities for local children to build relationships with STEM mentors through gallery programming, workshops, lectures, and more. Much like the rest of our world, we needed to pivot and adjust to our “new normal” over the last seven months, which meant eliminating most in-person events. The grant supported our ability to continue to provide meaningful programming in the digital realm. We highlighted the work of women in STEM from across Connecticut, capturing their stories through virtual interviews and blog posts, reaching hundreds of viewers, and creating educational resources that will be in use for years to come. 

The grant funding also allowed us to spotlight women in STEM throughout our exhibits. The evaluation process included as part of the grant enabled us to collect data that suggests our visitors develop an increased interest in science careers and exploring new science activities after visiting our institution. As visitors immerse themselves in our galleries, we introduce them to role models excelling in jobs in the scientific fields referenced in our exhibits—and access to the image and video assets in the IF/THEN Collection helped us to represent women and gender minorities in our museum’s content more effectively. The Science Center aims to help children build a STEM identity early on in life, as research shows this early self-perception is an even better predictor of success in science careers than academic achievement. Young women can now visit our Butterfly Encounter and learn more about AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Ronda Hamm, an entomologist, or Jennifer Adler, a conservation ecologist, and see themselves in careers they might not previously have thought possible, now that they have relatable role models. 

Woman and young girl viewing a museum exhibit.
Madison and Natalie, grade 5, visit the Connecticut Science Center and explore new STEM career spotlights near the Butterfly Encounter, September 2020.  Photo courtesy Connecticut Science Center

To build a more diverse workforce and create equity of opportunity for our community’s young people, we need to help them feel capable of STEM careers regardless of their gender identity or background, a goal that must continue to drive our work for years to come. Perhaps most exciting is that we have continued access to the IF/THEN® Collection and, for us, the possibilities are endless. We can continue to revitalize our exhibits by spotlighting professionals from the Collection, and we can incorporate our new Women in Science digital resources into community educational materials. We are already infusing their stories into virtual programs, supplemental educational material for our STEM Career Showcases, and more…and we cannot wait to see where the Collection takes us next! 


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This post was contributed by Kelsey Rogers, STEM Career Coordinator at the Connecticut Science Center. At the science center, she helps build interactive learning experiences with STEM professionals and educators to inspire local youth to pursue STEM careers in their home state.

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