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The White House has announced that Arizona State University will lead the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 19 institutions of higher education and nonprofit partners committed to supporting minority girls and women in STEM fields.
The announcement by the White House Council for Women and Girls reflects the national recognition earned by ASU’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and the center’s executive director, Kimberly A. Scott, in encouraging greater access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for women and girls of color.
“Too many African-American, Latina and Native American women are pushed out of the STEM experience in college,” said Scott, who also founded the nationally lauded CompuGirls program, which introduces young girls from under-resourced school districts to technology. “Today’s announcement will help empower young women.”
There are many reasons why women do not enter and persist in STEM fields. Members of the National STEM Collaborative are committed to exploring those reasons and implementing scalable solutions.
“We need to transform the way STEM is taught,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director of the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy. “By encouraging innovations in STEM teaching, addressing the issue of bias, and also awareness of the types of teaching we use, we are trying to promote positive images of scientists and engineers and promote new ways of teaching that will benefit a broad group of diverse students.”
ASU’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) sees a transformative mission for the collaborative: not simply filling the STEM pipeline with more girls and women of color, but creating an environment in which that happens naturally.
Members of the collaborative will help assemble a tool kit and online workshops, train hiring managers and key personnel in addressing bias, track the experiences and support of women of color in STEM majors and build a database of programs that help them.
ASU senior Courtney Besaw, who is studying psychology, has seen firsthand the challenges for women in pursuing a degree in a STEM field.
“I think the biggest challenge is feeling the need to prove yourself,” Besaw said. “Most of my professors are male … Sometimes I feel the need to be the best in order to prove that I deserve to be there just as much as my other classmates.”
ASU will lead nine educational institutions and nine nonprofit groups in the collaborative. The educational institutions are: Amherst College, City College of New York, Diné College, Maricopa Community Colleges, Spelman College, University of Alabama, University of California–Riverside, University of Maryland–Baltimore County, and the Project on Race & Gender in Science & Medicine at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.
The nonprofit institutions are: American Indian Higher Education Consortium, Arizona STEM Network, Iridescent, National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, National Math + Science Initiative, National Society of Black Engineers, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, STEM4Us!, and the Surge Assembly.
ASU’s leadership role follows a July roundtable on inclusive STEM education, co-hosted by CGEST and the White House Council on Women and Girls. CGEST takes an active role in shaping the conversation surrounding gender equity in STEM, including through such initiatives as CompuGirls.
“Programs like CompuGirls are a good start,” said Besaw. “Getting girls interested, involved and motivated early may help push some students from the ‘want to do’ mentality to the ‘can do’ mentality.”