MEDIA, Pa. — More than 300 seventh- and ninth-grade girls from schools in the Greater Philadelphia area visited Penn State Brandywine on May 10 and June 1 for the campus’ annual STEM Options Day. The program was designed to give girls a day of exploration and discovery in STEM-related topics and careers.
The two events featured several different workshops led by successful women from companies such as Boeing, Communications Test Design Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, the Department of Defense, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and more. Topics covered during the workshops included biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, kinesiology, forensic science, environmental science and nuclear physics.
“Women are conspicuously underrepresented in STEM disciplines and careers,” said Brandywine Professor of Mathematics Charles Helou, who helped organize the events. “Barely 25 percent of the workforce in STEM consists of women. Connecting young girls with high-level STEM professionals brings those girls in touch with very important and inspiring role models. That interaction emphasizes the importance and attractiveness of careers in STEM and opens up a new world to them.”
Brandywine Professor of Earth Science Laura Guertin, who led a workshop on climate science and served as chair of the STEM Options Committee, noted the importance of introducing female students to STEM careers at a young age.
“Research literature shows that students in the middle grades, especially female students, are either turned ‘on’ or turned ‘off’ to science as a consideration for a future career field,” Guertin said. “Girls need a positive, engaging science experience in these critical years. By having women be the science workshop leaders, girls can not only meet a female STEM professional, but also see themselves as a scientist, doing that research or performing that work. Our STEM Options workshops use best pedagogical practices for engagement and discovery-based learning.”
Brittney Shipp, a meteorologist for NBC10 Philadelphia’s First Alert Weather Team, served as the keynote speaker at the June 1 event. An Emmy-nominated journalist, Shipp is passionate about educational school visits, diversity in children’s literature, and bridging the gender gap in STEM careers.
“Science can only be a strong community if it is more inclusive and diverse,” Guertin said. “This is something everyone needs to work on, not just women, but men need to support these efforts as well. It needs to be a community solution, and our STEM Options Day program is just one piece that helps girls on their journey into STEM.”