Closing The Gap

Dec 08, 2014 John Stumbos CA&ES Outlook Magazine — University of California, Davis
Program seeks to ignite interest in STEM for elementary school girls.
Closing The Gap

Biological and agricultural engineering professor Tina Jeoh (right) pours liquid nitrogen into a mixture of cream, sugar, and vanilla to make ice cream, an activity designed to stimulate interest in science.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that only 27 percent of all computer science and math jobs were held by women in 2009. For engineering jobs, the figure is even less: 14 percent. Statistics like these are the reason why efforts to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in younger girls are so important.

“STEM for Girls” is a one-day event for 50 to 60 elementary school girls from Sacramento and Woodland held each spring at UC Davis. The program was developed by Tina Jeoh, a professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; Mari Knuth-Bouracee, assistant director of outreach for the Women’s Resources and Research Center; and Parto Aram, owner of a Davis nonprofit education program that runs technology courses for girls.

“Women have historically been underrepresented in the STEM workforce, and that trend still holds true today,” Jeoh said. “One of the challenges to drawing more women into STEM fields is the lack of role models for the younger generations. A big part of what we are trying to accomplish by bringing these girls onto campus is for them to interact with ‘ordinary women’ who are passionate about STEM.”

The April 2014 workshop included fun activities such as DNA extraction from strawberries, a chemistry primer on polymers and rockets, and a food science foray in butter making. The girls also visited campus facilities like the Bohart Museum of Entomology and the horse and dairy barns. In addition, six women from industry talked about their experiences with STEM.

About 50 volunteers—undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty—make the event a success. According to Jeoh, they are passionate about STEM and want to share that enthusiasm with the next generation. The program is supported by Jeoh’s “CAREER” grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We hope to ignite a passion for STEM in the girls, and we also hope that they can see themselves in us,” she said.

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