New Haven STEMfems Preview

On September 24, 2014, we previewed our upcoming DIY History module, STEMfems: Women Transforming our World with a special test event at New Haven's Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS). The school's 200 female students, ranging from sixth graders to seniors, attended a series of workshops and panel discussions designed to expose them to a variety of STEM career options and inspire them to pursue their passions for STEM despite challenges they may encounter. We were joined by ten high-level female STEM presenters who spent the day talking with students and giving them hands-on experiences they won't soon forget!

The day began with welcome remarks from New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Garth Harries, and others. Then 2014 Inductee Jennifer Lawton, CEO of MakerBot, took the podium to share with students about her journey to the top and the struggles she had to overcome on her path to success–including being told by her 10th grade math teacher that "girls can't do math" so she would fail when she took geometry. Students appreciated Lawton's humor and her candor about the difficulties she experienced throughout her career.

After the opening session, students spent the rest of the morning in smaller workshop groups, each student attending one hands-on STEM workshop led by one of our featured STEM presenters and one history-focused workshop led by CWHF staff using materials and activities from the preview of the STEMfems module.

STEM Workshops included:

Introduction to MakerBot & 3D Printing
Jennifer Lawton (2014 Inductee) & MakerBot Staff
This workshop will provide an introduction to the 3D printing revolution. Participants will learn how to design a simple logo using free design software and then have an opportunity to see it come to life in 3D using the MakerBot 3D printing system.

Basics of Computer Simulation
Theresa Muenkel Christy, Fellow, Otis Elevator Company (2014 Design & Innovation Honoree)
This workshop will incorporate a discussion of computer simulation including what it is and why it’s important. Participants will build a simple, manual elevator simulator to illustrate the basics of simulation and explore a version of Otis Elevator Company’s elevator simulator software.

Superbugs & Superdrugs
Erin Duffy, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer, Melinta Therapeutics (2014 Design & Innovation Honoree)
This workshop will introduce participants to the basics of bacteria and antibiotics including how bacteria look, how they grow and how they are eradicated by antibiotics and what antibiotics are, how they look, and how they kill bacteria.

Social Enterprise Sparks: How to Start a Business & Save the World
Katherine Emery, CEO & Founder, The Walker Group & Founder, reSET (2014 Inductee) & MakerBot Staff
This workshop is for girls who want to learn how they can become an entrepreneur and use business to help solve important local and global problems.  Participants will learn about social enterprise, why it’s the way of the future and how to create a business that makes the world a better place.

The December MetroNorth Train Derailment: Incident Investigation & Root Cause Analysis
Deborah Patterson, Ph.D., President, Patterson Environment, Health & Safety Consulting
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.

Where are We? How Ships and Submarines Navigate at Sea
Joan Sienkiewicz, Program Supervisor, General Dynamics Electric Boat
This workshop will cover the basics of submarines, how they navigate and sensors and technology work to keep ships safe at sea. Participants will work in teams and use charts to understand a ship's position and heading and plot a safe course.


About the CWHF Workshop

In addition to attending one hands-on STEM workshop, each student participated in a larger-group CWHF-led discussion workshop based on materials developed for the STEMfems module. In this workshop, students discussed the challenges women face when considering STEM careers, learned about the historical and societal factors that have contributed to women's underrepresentation in STEM fields, and brainstormed about how they can be a part of the solution to this underrepresentation. Given that the girls make up only about a third of the school's student body, this was the first time they were all able to be in a room together to discuss these issues and expressed appreciation for the opportunity.

As part of the workshop, students also explored the stories of remarkable female STEM pioneers from Connecticut including Dr. Barbara McClintock (Nobel Prize-winning geneticist), Theodate Pope Riddle (one of the first female architects in the U.S.), and Dr. Alice Hamilton (pioneer in industrial toxicology and advocate for workplace safety standards). Then, using these women's stories as an inspiration, students broke into smaller groups and created PSA posters to encourage other young women to overcome challenges in their pursuit of STEM careers. At the end of the session, each group presented its poster to the full contingent of students.

Afternoon Panel Discussion

After lunch, middle school students returned to their regularly scheduled classes while high school students participated in a Q&A session with our panel of presenters. Students asked questions about career options, college decisions, financial concerns, work/life balance, and many other topics. The presenters appreciated the opportunity to share their own experiences with students, and students had an opportunity to ask questions they don't normally have a chance to ask of working professionals. Several students were able to make connections with presenters for future internship or shadowing opportunities.

Selected Feedback Received

“Partnering with the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame was an amazing experience for our students. It gave our girls an opportunity to be mentored by women who have traveled the paths that they themselves one day seek to travel…Our girls don’t often have women who they interact with who are in industry, and having that exposure is a very important experience!” – Medria Blue-Ellis, Principal

“It was such an honor to have the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame come and work with my students because, especially in STEM careers and at a STEM school there are so many more men in the population and some of our girl students lose their motivation. And I think after the program, it rejuvenated them and it re-motivated them…I think it tells them that it’s possible. That’s the most important thing: to tell them that it’s possible.” – Karen Robinson, teacher

“I think some people just assume nowadays that sexism and discrimination is over, that we don’t need to deal with it anymore, that we don’t need to be telling girls that they can do it. So people don’t even bother to say that. And it’s not true. We still have to deal with all these problems, and we still need some help learning that we can do whatever we want.” – Nora, sophomore

“Every time I tell people what I want to do they’re like, ‘Ok, you can’t do that because, you’re a girl.’…And I wanted a way to prove that I could actually do it, but I didn’t have any proof. But now these women are my proof, my backup.” – Danayit, sophomore

“It gave me more enthusiasm to go into a STEM field because these people are great, they’re making these cool inventions, they’re leading the way to a better society as a whole. And I feel like if they can do it, why can’t I?” – Anna, sophomore