STEM Selves in New Mexico, an IF/THEN® project

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

When it comes to girls in STEM, we know that role models matter. In fact, some studies have shown that the most effective role models are women working in STEM careers, and that these role models have the potential to significantly impact a girl’s interest in STEM and her intention to pursue a STEM career.1 Representation matters, especially in diverse communities, like those in New Mexico. Explora Science Center & Children’s Museum of Albuquerque set out to create a series of video interviews with New Mexican women in STEM. The funding from our ASTC IF/THEN® Gender Equity Grant allowed us to gain some much-needed skills and experience to do this!

Setting the stage at Explora.

To begin the project, we asked: How can you film a compelling interview in a socially distanced and safe way? We had already conducted a series of Zoom interviews with local scientists and STEM professionals immediately after pandemic-induced closures began. We had a lot of compelling stories, but the medium of a Zoom call couldn’t match the quality of the interviews themselves. We knew we had to get creative.

Our second question became: How can we use an interview format to successfully portray a role model? Our internal IF/THEN® project team looked over the IF/THEN® Collection, watched the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador interviews, and got an idea that would completely change our approach. We wanted to highlight women in STEM and their stories, and we needed to hear from these women to find out the important themes to relay and learn the types of things they wished they had known when they were in middle and high school.

So we set up a community listening session with eight scientists from around the state of New Mexico asking these very questions. It was through this conversation that we came up with our theme: resiliency. As we listened to these scientists describe their career pathways, we heard again and again the simple truth that STEM isn’t something separate from our daily lives, but it is a part of it. The very qualities that lead to success in STEM can also lead to success in other parts of our lives. Following this listening session, we developed interview questions designed to highlight the importance of resiliency, reveal stories about career pathways and what it is like to work as a woman in STEM, and provide meaningful advice. Thus, the series “STEM Selves” was born.

Next, we needed a new and compelling way to film and edit the interviews. We decided to film the interviews in-person. Here’s where the COVID-19 closures became helpful, as we were able to use Explora’s now-empty theater for filming. Having a well ventilated, sound-proofed space with adjustable lighting became a key component, as was having a space in which our participants and interviewers could be comfortable and socially distance.

We asked each interviewer to provide us with “B-roll” film, and gave them the interview questions ahead of time, ensuring they were well-prepared. We set up three cameras, giving us the opportunity to switch camera angles. And, most important—we asked two high school interns—Tory and Tiffany, to do the interviews, prompting our participants to share their stories while speaking directly to their audience. Tiffany and Tory were not only excited for the opportunity to conduct the interviews, but also to hear the stories of women in STEM and get the chance to speak with role models.

After completing eight interviews with our three-camera production, we had to learn how to edit an overwhelming amount of footage and audio, condensing each interview into ten-minute videos. This learning experience, and the entire project, allowed our staff to learn new skills, build their capacity, and find creative solutions—all of which will serve us well moving forward.

Thanks to the ASTC IF/THEN® Gender Equity Project, we’ve been able to give women in STEM a platform to tell their compelling and important stories in hopes of giving young women interested in STEM a chance to find their pathway, and more importantly their STEM self!

You can find the videos on our Explora’s YouTube Channel.

1 Morgenroth T, Ryan MK, Peters K. The Motivational Theory of Role Modeling: How Role Models Influence Role Aspirants’ Goals. Review of General Psychology. 2015;19(4):465-483.

This post was contributed by Anthony Salvagnp, Associate Director of Career Pathways, and Allison Brody, Director of Career Pathways, at Explora.

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