empowering women, girls and their families to achieve equal opportunities in their personal and professional lives
“I guess no one ever said this would be easy,” I thought to myself as I stared at the notebook in front of me.
I was trying to make enough sense of the numbers and letters swimming in front of my eyes to complete my Physics homework. I was in the first year of college at the University of Virginia, a declared Biomedical Engineering major, and decidedly struggling. My classes were stacked — Physics, Calculus II, Computing, Materials Science, and Writing for Engineers — on top of the rigorous practice and traveling schedule that came along with being a Division 1 Track and Field athlete. Sometimes it seemed hard finding time to eat, sleep, and breathe, much less meet with other students, professors, and participate in the myriad of extracurricular activities UVa had to offer!
So, I strategized. I made an excel sheet that laid out all the classes I would need to take to graduate on time. I talked with my coach and explained how my classes conflicted with some of the practice times, and we came up with an alternate schedule. I brought my books with me during track competitions so I could study between my races.
And most importantly, I sought help. I asked questions to clarify confusing concepts. I met with my classmates and tutors to give and receive help with homework and other assignments. I found upperclassmen who were willing to be my mentors academically and personally by supporting and encouraging me when I wanted to give up.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, apparently it also takes an entire college campus to produce a student-athlete Biomedical Engineering student. By communicating with my professors, classmates, and coaches, and by taking advantage of the numerous types of support that college campuses typically offer, particularly for female minority engineering students (i.e., Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, Diversity Office, etc.), I was able to successfully complete my degree and graduate with high honors.
I also managed to get involved in several organizations to improve my leadership skills and gain friends outside of my engineering and track bubbles, conduct research in a prominent Tissue Engineering lab, and even study the Mandarin language in China. Due to my research experiences and interests, I enrolled in a Chemical Engineering graduate program at the University of Connecticut and am currently working on my PhD in the Institute for Regenerative Engineering. Since I was overwhelmingly inspired by the numerous people who helped my along my journey, I teamed with Tiffany St. Bernard to start a nonprofit, ManyMentors, focused on using online and mobile tools to provide mentoring opportunities for minorities and female middle schoolers to working professionals in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.
Throughout my experiences in college I learned this — it isn’t easy. But it is definitely worth it. By challenging myself, I grew in ways I never anticipated. By visualizing and setting goals, I accomplished more that I thought I could. By surrounding myself with positive, encouraging, uplifting, and inspiring people and programs, I developed into a better-rounded, cultured, and caring person than I ever could have on my own. So take the risk. Do what seems hard and makes you uncomfortable. Because that experience might just make a world of a difference.
Written by Keshia Ashe. Keshia is a current Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Connecticut and the CEO of ManyMentors.
As a new intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), I recently experienced inspiration: the apex of CWEALF’s hard work. This past Friday, October 11, 2013, we held a Girls and STEM Expo at Asnuntuck Community College in Enfield, CT. Being inexperienced in the Expo process, it was my first time planning an event that would reach so many people, particularly those at a young, impressionable age.
Without having attended, no less orchestrated, any of CWEALF’s Expos in the past, it sometimes seemed like I was organizing blindly. Anyone can relate to a situation where you don’t know exactly what to expect, but I must admit that it was a little bit daunting thinking that 130 teachers and seventh graders would be judging my hard work and planning!
My CWEALF supervisors assured me that everything would pay off on Expo day, but I didn’t truly understand what they meant until I was actually immersed in “it”. “It” is a very difficult experience to describe, though of course I am referring to the Expo. All of the planning seemed so logical and concrete, but when the girls arrived the Expo took on a life entirely of its own and became so much more than just the Expo itself. The intricate details of preparation that had seemed so important, such as deciding which font to use for the cover of a career packet, were no longer so significant. Instead, the excitement that the girls conveyed toward the STEM activities was the only thing that seemed to matter.
It is amazing to see the kind of energy and wonder that is still present in middle school. As an adult, I think that so often we view the world with such objectivity that we forget what it means to really invest ourselves in a moment—the moment of trying something new. As I walked through the different workshops, I couldn’t help but become excited too! Learning how to weld, or manipulate a machine, or form an efficient assembly line, were all memorable experiences that I never had in middle school. By watching the girls, it was as if I was engaging in these skill building activities, activities that I now feel that I truly missed out on as a youth.
In all honesty, the stipulations that many girls have about going into different areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics were present with me throughout college, and most definitely affected the selection of my degree program. To have the capability of inspiring girls to take opportunities that I never knew were available for me is a pretty remarkable experience.
Although I am new to the realm of CWEALF Expos, I can already see the importance of addressing potential STEM careers with middle school girls. It is obvious, as you watch the students feed off of each other’s enthusiasm, that they are still at a very impressionable age. As they endeavor into the sciences more “seriously,” and at a time when they are making the transition from diorama projects to textbook assignments, it takes memorable experiences like the Expos to ignite an interest and motivation that will carry the girls through the necessary, and sometimes arduous, education for STEM careers.
Reflecting on this Expo, and in anticipation of the many more in the spring, I now understand the real importance of CWEALF’s work with the Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) Initiative. Because of this rewarding experience, I now feel a stronger drive to continuously improve upon the STEM Expo day so we can reach even more girls. And after all of this, ultimately seeing the buzz of students excited about STEM and wanting to tell others about their memorable day: that is the inspiration.
Written by Danielle Simoneau. Danielle is a graduate of Rhode Island College and is the G2O intern at CWEALF.
My name is Monika Dezhbod and I am a junior Biology major at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT. Ever since I was seven years old I would go around telling everyone that, “I want to be a Baby Doctor when I grow up.” Of course everyone would correct me and say, “You mean you want to be a Pediatrician?” At seven, I did not know that the official term for my dream career was in fact, Pediatrician. I would lash out at everyone and say, “No! A Baby Doctor!” Everyone thought that that I was young and would change what I wanted to do when I got older. However, here I am — 20 years old — and still on my journey to becoming a Pediatrician.
Last year, my professor Dr. Zito talked to me about a program called G2O Girls & Stem run by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, and asked me if I wanted to volunteer to help out. He told me that this program helps young girls to realize that science is fun. I was ecstatic to be offered such an opportunity because I love science, but the best part was that I could inspire young girls to go into science-related fields in the future.
The big day arrived and the group of young girls I was to work with came into the Organic Chemistry lab and sat down. A classmate and I were going to teach the girls about polymerization by making slime. Their faces lit up with excitement when they realized making slime is science. My classmate and I demonstrated how to make the slime and taught them about polymerization. While everyone was making their slime we asked them questions about polymerization and they knew the answers right off the bat.
However, we were able to teach them another major lesson about science. I did not give them enough of one ingredient to make the slime and our experiment was not successful on the first try. I was able to teach them that science is about trial and error. In science, you do not always get the results you want, but you determine what went wrong and try again. On the second try, we were successful! Each of the girls had her own piece of slime and got to pick which color she wanted to make it. Every girl in that room was smiling and wanted to make more slime. Their smiles and their excitement about science was rewarding.
The best part of volunteering is to see the positive reactions from the people you helped. We all have had someone at one point in our lives help us out. Do you remember the smile that took over your face, and the warmth you felt in your heart, when someone lent you a helping hand? Now think about giving someone else the same sensation by doing a good deed from the heart.
Written by Monika Dezhbod. Monika is a student at University of Saint Joseph and a G2O volunteer.
Carole Del Vecchio is a welder and a welding instructor in the Manufacturing Technology Center at Asnuntuck Community College (ACC). She is a woman who is passionate about welding (as an art form and as a trade) and teaching. But although Carole is both a technician and an artist with welding equipment, it wasn’t her first avocation.
Welding is Carole’s third career. Her earlier careers included working as an interpreter/translator in the Massachusetts Court system and running her own trucking company. Her love for heavy equipment began when she was a girl growing up in a family involved in the automotive business; she always loved fixing things. At 18, she got to ride in a big rig; in her 20’s she learned to repair a transmission.
She recalls herself at 10 years old watching a woman on a Harley while at her family’s beach house in Old Lyme and how she wanted to be that woman. She knew she would get there; she just wasn’t clear then that her love for bikes would steer her to a lifelong love affair with bikes and a welding career.
Carole’s interest in restoring antique Harleys led her to ACC. She needed to learn to weld aluminum in order to be able to restore the bikes to their original condition. Carole enrolled at ACC as a student in 2007, graduated in 2009 and became a staff member upon graduation.
Carole is an inspired and inspiring teacher. She is an artist in metal, and she also loves her interactions with students of all ages, especially when she gets to experience their ‘aha!’ moments. Carole appreciates the career awareness experiences that girls have by participating in CWEALF’s G2O Girls and STEM Expos and is an enthusiastic partner in our activities.
Carole explains, “Girls don’t know what they don’t know; Expos allow them to experience all kinds of different areas at ACC. Will they become welders? It’s clear that most of them won’t. But without that exposure, the idea of being a welder would NEVER occur to middle school girls.”
And perhaps without that mystery woman flying down that shore road, Carole may never have known to explore the field that became her passion.
Written by Lucy Brakoniecki. Lucy is the Research & Evaluation Director at CWEALF.
As many of you know, CWEALF is dedicated to promoting girls’ educational and career opportunities. Our Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) Initiative strives to get girls interested in, and excited about, careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as these fields are still primarily male-dominated today.
This summer, I’ve spoken with a number of 7th- and 8th- grade girls from across Connecticut about their experiences with math. Research has shown that middle school is a critical time when girls begin to lose interest in math courses, which can limit their career choices. Our goal was to assess how middle school girls in Connecticut feel about math.
I am delighted to report that the majority of the girls I interviewed are enjoying and excelling at math!
The girls’ overwhelming enthusiasm about using math both inside and outside of the classroom is noteworthy. Their teachers deserve credit for innovating creative and fun approaches; the girls I spoke with appreciated the variety of interactive activities like visual games, problem-solving competitions, opportunities to use technology like the SMART Board, and even a “Bring-Your-Own Pie” for Pi-Day (March 14). In addition to having fun with math in the classroom, the girls expressed an understanding of its utility in everyday life:
“Math is everywhere!”
“Math presents a tool that lets you connect with other people, like at the store, to call a number, or to find a house address on a street.”
“I use math for shopping (to figure out prices and sales) and for baking (to measure fractions).”
“Lots of good-paying jobs use math!”
“Everyone should know enough math to pay their bills.”
These girls are smart and have high aspirations! Some of their dream careers include: architect, medical professional, D.N.A. research scientist, pharmacist, accountant, pediatrician, nurse, and 7th-grade math teacher.
When asked why teaching was her dream, one inspiring young girl stated, “I want to be a 7th-grade math teacher so I can help students that struggle in math like me. I’ll understand how they feel.”
Photo by Gates Foundation, “West Charlotte High School Student,” September 23, 2009. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.
Cassandra Martin is a student at Boston College and summer intern at CWEALF.
Have you heard of GoldieBlox? GoldieBlox is a new toy invented by a female engineer specifically to get young girls interested in STEM. Here at CWEALF, we’re very excited to share with you that starting this month, July 2013, GoldieBlox is now available in Toys R Us and on Amazon for international shipping!
GoldieBlox puts together engineering and building with what girls love- reading and stories. As the character Goldie and her friends do things within the book, your child is responsible for building along with what Goldie builds. GoldieBlox is great for girls age 6-9 years old. GoldieBlox’s inventor found that many girls enjoy figuring out how to make the different parts of the toy spin all together at once.
GoldieBlox is a great toy, and a step in the right direction for young girls. While engineering and technology are two of the fastest growing fields, only 11% of engineers in the US are women. This is something we desperately need to change. CWEALF is doing what we can to keep girls interested in STEM courses and jobs by hosting our G2O events, where 7th grade girls spend a day experimenting with different STEM topics. What are you doing to keep the girls in your life interested in STEM?
Photo by ricarose, “Goldieblox, an interactive book trying to attract girls into engineering,” 9/29/2012, Creative Commons Attribution- 2.0 Generic
Written by Linda Manville Kaphaem. Linda is a Reproductive Justice Advocate and a CWEALF intern.
A recent article in US News discusses how colleges are trying to retain women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors. Female students sometimes feel uncomfortable and intimidated by STEM classes that are mostly populated by males since at many schools women make up only 10-15% of STEM majors. Many colleges now are trying to work to implement mentoring programs and communities for women in STEM majors so that they do not feel alone or uncomfortable continuing in the major of their choice. The article cites UT-Austin and Virginia Tech as two colleges who use learning communities to make women feel comfortable in a STEM major and connect them with more experienced women in those majors. Many of these programs involve a living component where women in STEM live in the same dorm so that they are surrounded by people who are interested in the same things as they are.
In addition to the two colleges that the article mentions, Connecticut’s own, University of Connecticut at Storrs also has a learning community for women in STEM. The learning community is called WiMSE (Women in Math, Science, and Engineering) and the women who choose to be in this community live together on the same floor of a dorm. Students take a one-credit class each semester that educates them and connects them with important information, issues, and connections in their majors. They also take part in leadership, networking, and community outreach activities with their learning community classmates and professors. Testimonies from women in WiMSE say that they are all able to help each other on homework, learn from each other, and that they have found their best friends through the community.
The Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) supports women and girls interested in STEM and works to get young girls excited about STEM careers through the Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) expos, held throughout the year. Getting girls interested in STEM is the first step and learning communities in colleges can help keep women on track to have successful careers in STEM fields by surrounding them with other supportive women in those majors.
Written by Jennifer Farina. Jen is a student at the University of Connecticut studying Family Studies and Psychology and an intern at CWEALF.
Now that it’s summertime, kids are finished with school and will be home during the day. It can be a daunting task for parents to find things to keep their kids active and learning. Here at CWEALF, we think it’s very important for girls and boys to stay interested in math and science. During the school year, CWEALF hosts STEM Expos for 7th grade girls which are always met with great reviews. On the G2O website, there are tons of different fun activities you can do at home. Here’s another fun activity for people of all ages!
Make Oobleck (Slime)!
Oobleck, named from a Dr. Seuss book, is a non-newtonian fluid. This means that it’s resistance to flow or movement increases the harder you try to push it. The cornstarch particles are slow moving, so if you push quickly against the oobleck, they don’t have time to move. But if you slowly dip your hand into the mixture, the particles can move out of the way and the oobleck will feel like a liquid.
Photo by Jason Eppink, “oobleck,” 6/20/13, Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License
Written by Linda Manville Kaphaem. Linda is a Reproductive Justice Advocate and a CWEALF intern.