Arizona Science Center engages girls in STEM careers

Sarah and Verdande analyze a "monster" DNA pattern and learn about genomes during the Girls in STEM camp at the Arizona Science Center on Oct. 27, 2017. (John Spevacek/DD)

Traditionally technology and science based jobs and majors have been traditionally male dominated fields.

Girls in STEM, a program that works to balance gender diversity in STEM fields by introducing girls to it in early education, hoped to expose young girls thus past weekend to try to change these traditions.

The Arizona Science Center continued its efforts to engage girls in science, technology, engineering and math with their fifth annual Girls in STEM camp event Friday.

Girls in STEM is a Kids from all over the Valley from fourth to eighth grade gathered with mentors and educators at the Arizona Science Center Friday and Saturday to engage in activities that focused on STEM programming.

In 2016, The National Assessment of Educational Progress test, which sees how the U.S. compares in education with the rest of the world, indicated girls had a higher degree of knowledge on STEM subjects. However, gender gaps in the field paint a different picture.

Tara Sonderman, the learning event specialist for the Arizona Science Center, said the program is creating a community as the program grows to create women in STEM careers.

“We try to do this event to bring girls that are all interested in at least something that’s similar to STEM see that there are other girls like them to create that community feel,” Sonderman said.

According to Sonderman, fourth through eighth grade is statistically where girls become disinterested or discouraged in pursuing a career in STEM. This is largely due to a diminishing self-efficacy from not seeing many women in STEM careers.

Downtown Phoenix is growing in technology-related jobs, which Sonderman believes, made the Arizona Science Center a fitting home for this annual event which helps girls see there are other girls just like them, and that by supporting each other, they can become successful in a STEM career path.

“Being the Arizona Science Center, we want to be that hub of a place where people can come and get messy, do science and do stuff that they can’t do necessarily at home or at school,” Sonderman said. “This a program for that.”

The young girls broke up into groups and rotated around the Arizona Science Center and the CREATE space next to the museum. In each location, the girls participated in a hands-on activity that focused on this year’s theme: biology and biotechnology. Activities included dissecting an eyeball and practicing suture skills.

Victoria Williams, the education program manager at CREATE, worked closely with Sonderman in coordinating the event. She said the program focuses on project-based learning to continue to engage the girls in STEM.

“We focus on hands-on projects and project-based learning, so bringing more girls into our facility is always a top priority for us because we do see that gap,” Williams said. “With Girls in STEM, it’s a perfect opportunity for us to to reach out to that demographic.”

Williams said she hopes that events like this will help young girls strive for success in STEM and applied sciences careers.

“We are not seeing them as the surgeons or as the trauma doctors, and we want to encourage that at a younger age and spark that interest,” Williams said.

Williams believes that girls become open to the possibility of a STEM pathway once they are exposed to hands-on learning and activities. She said this event “push(es) the idea that there are really great hands-on careers out there.”

Savannah Gadberry has a degree in engineering and was a mentor for the Girls in STEM event this year.

In college, Gadberry was one of the only girls in most of her classes, and became involved in clubs and organizations that supported women pursuing STEM careers. She wanted to give that support back to young girls following in her footsteps.

“You really get to know the other girls and you help each other and build a bond,” Gadberry said. “They’re girls, they can do it too.”

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