Hartford STEMfems Launch

We were thrilled to officially launch STEMfems: Women Transforming Our World on September 30, 2015, at Pathways Academy of Technology & Design in East Hartford! This special launch event (modeled after our successful preview event in New Haven the previous year) introduced STEMfems to the world and coincided with the module's availability for download (click here to access). Nearly 200 female students representing three Hartford-area schools gathered at Pathways for a day-long series of workshops and discussions designed to introduce them to a variety of STEM careers and engage them in conversation about the challenges women continue to face when pursuing their passion for STEM.

The day began with a welcome from Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman who underscored the importance of students preparing themselves for college and career and whose message particularly focused on the need for women and girls to pursue STEM fields where they can help solve some of our society’s most pressing problems. She was followed by 2014 Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame Inductee Jennifer Lawton, Chief Strategy Officer at littleBits, who gave a brief keynote address highlighting her own varied career path (from Internet technology pioneer to bookstore owner to 3D printing leader and beyond) and stressing the need for students to be well-rounded and to take advantage of the opportunities offered to them as they come up. Borrowing from Sheryl Sandberg, Lawton advised students: “If someone offers you a seat on a rocket ship, get on and don’t ask which seat!”

Students then split into their workshop groups, and each student attended one of nine 90-minute hands-on STEM workshop as well as one discussion workshop led by CWHF staff. Prior to the event, students were asked to indicate their first, second, and third choices for STEM workshops, and every attempt was made to place students in their preferred workshop sessions. Each STEM workshop was facilitated by a female STEM professional and included a brief introduction to the presenter, her career path, and obstacles she has faced during her career as well as a hands-on activity/project related to her field.

STEM Workshops Included:

Building Games for Science, Fun & Social Change
Elena Bertozzi, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Game Design & Development, Quinnipiac University
What’s it like to study game design in a university context? How can games make a difference in the world? Participants in this workshop will make a simple game while discussing how we can use play to teach, motivate and engage players with the world around them.

Changing the Face of Information Technology
Rhonda Gass, Chief Information Officer, Corporate Functions, & Lori Groth, Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Stanley Black & Decker
How can companies remain competitive and make their IT departments work for their business needs? In this workshop, participants will discuss the differences between information technology and business technology and learn from the example of one of Connecticut’s most enduring companies.

Crazy for Rockets & Space!
Meryl Mallery, Director, Project Engineering, Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense Company (with 2 team members)
Come join three fun-loving aerospace engineers! We work for an explosives manufacturer that designs and manufactures explosive components for rocket stage separation and termination! It does not get much more fun than that! Participants in this workshop will learn about what it means to be an aerospace engineer, see examples of hardware and video for the new NASA launch vehicle and make bottle rockets that will be launched outdoors!

Elevator Systems: More than Up and Down
Theresa Muenkel Christy, Fellow, Otis Elevator Company
What goes into designing an elevator system? It’s way more than just going up and down! Participants will build a simple, manual elevator simulator to illustrate the basics of simulation and explore Otis Elevator Company’s simulator software.

Follow Your Dream! Patients are Waiting for You
Theresa Devins, DrPH, Senior Associate Director, Boehringer Ingelheim
What’s it like to help scientists run clinical trials for important new pharmaceutical products? How do you ensure adequate participation of women and minorities? Participants in this workshop will explore these and other questions of ethics in multi-national mega-trials and discuss how they can help improve the lives of patients around the world.

Hack Your Backpack: Inventing with littleBits
Jennifer Lawton, Chief Strategy Officer, littleBits (with 4 team members)
How can your backpack be improved? Participants in this workshop will have a chance to reinvent the quintessential school accessory! Make your backpack theft-proof, turn it into an instrument or even have it send you messages! What will you make?

MetroNorth Train Derailment: Incident Investigation & Root Cause Analysis
Deborah Patterson, Ph.D., President, Patterson Environment, Health & Safety
What happened to the MetroNorth train that derailed in Connecticut in December 2013? Participants in this workshop will conduct an investigation simulation using the DNV Systematic Cause Analysis Technique (SCAT) and identify permanent and system-wide areas for corrective action.

What do Architects do?
Mariko Masuoka, Principal, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (with 2 team members)
Ever wonder who thought to add a wall here rather than over there? Or why a window and not a door? These are all decisions made by architects. Architects design buildings. “Design” starts with a “plan.” This workshop will begin to explain what an architect does and how they design the spaces we live in. Participants will observe the real-time use of software that allows architects to develop plans and also visualize their plans in three dimensions.

What is your personal brand?
Tricia Mackechnie, Sr. VP & Chief Information Officer, The Hartford (with 2 team members)
Everyone should have a “brand” – qualities and skills that define who you are and what differentiates you from your peers. During this workshop, each participant will complete a skills inventory, analyze it for clusters, map the results on a grid, and then discuss. At the end of the workshop, you will have a clearer idea of your personal brand and how your choices will guide you onto your desired career path.

CWHF-Led Workshop

In addition to participating in one of the nine hands-on STEM workshops, each student attended a history-focused discussion-based workshop led by CWHF staff using STEMfems content. In this 90-minute workshop, students learned about the cultural and social factors that have led to the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields (myths about women’s interest and ability in science and math, the restricted spheres of employment traditionally reserved for women, etc.) and discussed the challenges the students continue to experience as young women interested in STEM careers. Students also explored the stories of three Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame Inductees: Dr. Barbara McClintock, Nobel Prize-winning genetics pioneer; Dr. Jewel Plummer-Cobb, leading cell biologist and advocate for women and minorities in the sciences; and Theodate Pope Riddle, one of the first female architects in the U.S.

Students then broke into groups of 3-4 and selected one of the challenges women face when considering a STEM career. Each group received a packet highlighting several CWHF Inductees in STEM fields and used the examples of Connecticut women (and their own creativity!) to create a PSA poster to help combat their chosen challenge. At the end of the workshop, each group presented its poster to the larger group.


Afternoon Panel Discussion Session

After lunch, students re-convened as a full group to participate in a panel discussion session. This session led off with a brief talk by Monica Smith, a recent graduate of the UConn School of Engineering currently working in Additive Manufacturing at Pratt & Whitney. As someone closer in age to the students, Smith was able to address some of their immediate college and career concerns and also encouraged them to consider even now what their future plans may be so that they can begin making the appropriate choices. Smith then joined the workshop presenters for a 45-minute panel discussion where students had an opportunity to ask their own questions. The conversation ranged from individual career paths to the “aha!” moment when a panelist knew she would go into her field to how the panelists selected a college (and paid for it!) to work-life balance and dreams to make the world a better place.