Our future girls in STEM

IF/THEN: An Initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies
EcoExploratorio 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.

The EcoExploratorio: Puerto Rico Science Museum is committed to inspiring people to explore and understand the natural systems of Earth and beyond; and share the knowledge and tools for building resilient communities and mitigating natural hazards through the application of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. But also to open spaces where girls can identify with female role models that look just like them. Through its educational and intervention models, each of our projects aims to ensure the accessibility of science education for girls and women. Informal education is one of the most effective strategies to mobilize and break the traditional patterns of women’s role and access to disciplines and opportunities in STEM. A 2019 report from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering, showed that only 19% of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences and 21% of bachelor’s degrees in engineering were awarded to women. Also, only 9% of people who hold academic doctoral positions are minorities. Despite these low numbers, we have Latinx leaders in STEM fields across the world. These role models are vital to inspiring younger generations to pursue educational and career opportunities in STEM.

First, I want to start with a glimpse of a conversation between an IF/THEN® Ambassador and a group of girls:

IF/THEN® Ambassador: How many female scientists can you name?
Audience: … {Silence}
IF/THEN® Ambassador: Well, after today, you can name two.

Dr. Greetchen Diaz, one of the three IF/THEN® Ambassadors from Puerto Rico, asked that question during our first Conversation with a Female Scientist event as part of the project funded by ASTC and IF/THEN®. That moment fueled our program to keep going and reach more girls. Using ASTC’s IF/THEN Gender Representation Toolkit at our museums also helped us understand that we, as a STEM organization, need to be more conscious about what we are doing to help girls achieve STEM careers.

The conversations with the IF/THEN® Ambassadors, Dr. Greetchen Diaz , Dr. Roselin Rosario-Meléndez, and Dr. Minerva Cordero, were key to starting our virtual exhibit, Niñas del Futuro (Girls of the Future). This is a Spanish-language exhibit where participants get to know a scientist and also discover the human being behind the scientist, her training, experiences, challenges, and contributions. Not only are they rock stars in their field, but they help portray science in ways not many scientists can. Fun, relevant, normal-ish. After participating in each conversation, including the ones with two local scientists, Dr. Lourdes de Cárdenas and Mildred Rivera, girls felt inspired by their stories. That was the goal.

The most significant moments are when scientists offer their advice to the participants. The reality of our girls’ surroundings and socio-cultural environments requires role models that look like and have similar backgrounds as them. Then, girls can visualize themselves as entrepreneurs in the STEM disciplines.

Photos courtesy EcoExploratorio
These photos depict events that took place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an organization, EcoExploratorio is dedicated to continuing to provide safe and inclusive spaces for everyone. We aim to keep inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals who are not afraid of challenges and barriers because they have role models and mentors guiding them through it. The goal of Niñas del Futuro is to provide girls with the tools to keep going, to move forward. Each of the female scientists who join in the conversations and who appear in the virtual exhibition is there to inspire young girls and motivate them to reach their dreams. Many of us did not have that when we were growing up. Therefore, the collaboration between our organization and STEM professionals is critical to achieve this goal since it provides more accessibility, reach, and the opportunity to leverage from female leaders who are impacting and moving the economy forward.

We cannot make the same mistake. Join us, and all the organizations that participated in this program, to help reduce the gender gap. Visit our virtual exhibit and share it with others. Let all girls, and especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, see themselves in science. Together we can move up those statistics.

This post was contributed by Jenny Guevara, the Executive Director of the EcoExploratorio: Puerto Rico Science Museum. Guevara earned an MA in Education with a specialty in Museology from Caribbean University and a BA in Secondary Education with a specialty in History from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.

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