In an effort to help African American girls succeed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), a local nonprofit joined other women in the field on two panels to answer specific need-to-know questions at the USA Science & Engineering Festival April 26-27 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest D.C.
“When we’re talking about teaching Black girls the professional and life skills that are going to help them succeed, having not just an understanding of ‘oh, I can be a chemical engineer or a geneticist,’ but an everyday interaction with technology is going to be incredibly key for them,” Kat Calvin, founder of Michelle in Training told the AFRO.
She said the nonprofit incorporates STEM by making sure the girls are using computers and by making sure they attend workshops.
“They’ve worked on robotics now and they’ve learned about coding,” Calvin said. “[We’re] incorporating STEM into everything that we do with them.”
Michelle in Training oversees 10 girls from Dunbar High School in Northwest D.C.
For the last two years, the group has met on the weekends to attend courses or workshops that have something to do with STEM. She said the nonprofit also tries to introduce the girls to several professional Black women in all fields.
“They’re starting to see that there are a lot more opportunities,” she said.
Professionals on the “Women in Technology” panels included Calvin, Tracy Chou, a software engineer at social media site Pinterest; Liza Conrad, development manager at Girls Who Code; and Reshma Saujani, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Girls Who Code. Sandy Samuel and Sharon Watts from Lockheed Martin moderated the panels.
Moderators chose girls from the audience to spin a large wheel on the Lockheed Martin stage at the Festival and then the girls chose one of the panelists to answer their question. Questions on the field were also taken from members in the audience.
One question from a member in the audience addressed how to fill the workforce gap in the STEM field with women workers.
Calvin replied that she first realized the importance of STEM when she got her first Iphone. “Technology went from being something that I went to for particular purposes to being a part of my everyday life, every second of every moment.”
“Girls more and more just need to see that there is nothing on earth that you can do that you don’t need STEM for, so you need to make it a part of your life,” she said.
Chou said that including more women in the STEM field was a pipeline problem. She and Conrad said that a big part in getting more women was to get more girls interested in STEM at an early age.
“One thing we found to at Girls Who Code is…getting girls interested when they’re young but creating an ecosystem in which they’re going to thrive,” Conrad said.