You've read the statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. While women make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, they hold less than a quarter of higher-paying jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions.
According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute's recent Generation STEM study, what's holding them back are dated perceptions, lower self-confidence and working environments that still do not fully consider women's needs or contributions.
Norwalk resident Dr. Cynthia Barnett, a retired former assistant principal at Brien McMahon High School, can recite most of these statistics verbatim. Throughout her teaching career, it disturbed her that few girls in her school were taking high-level math or science courses.
To spark more girls' interest in science and technology professions, Barnett has created a nurturing environment where girls can explore these disciplines. In 1996 she formed the Saturday Academy, a co-ed program focused on science. In 2010, Saturday Academy became an all-girls program. The Academy now organizes twice-a year Amazing Girls Science conferences at Norwalk Community College. The next Amazing Girls Science conference will be held on Oct. 20.
In addition to organizing the conference, Barnett has been busy helping to form All-girls FIRST LEGO League teams.
Fascinated by Connecticut's FIRST program--which inspires girls and boys from ages 6 to 18 around the world to learn about STEM professions through hands-on science projects and robotics competitions--Barnett volunteered to be a judge at Stamford Robotics' Junior FIRST LEGO League (JrFLL) events and attended a national FIRST exposition in New York City.
Those experiences motivated her over the past two years to form three girls-only FIRST LEGO League teams: Team # 3077, the Fast and Furious Cheetahs, Team 7307, the Super Science Sisters, a Girl Scouts team, and Team 15396, Brainy Bunch, which now involves 21 girls and their parents from Norwalk, Fairfield, Weston and Noroton.
Barnett's three FIRST LEGO League (FLL) teams are among 180 FLL teams that are active in Connecticut this year. The three teams meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekly at Stepping Stones Museum and have begun to gather information and prepare for this year's FLL competition, Senior Solutions.
This year's FLL Senior Solutions challenge is engaging more than 300,000 9- to 14-year-olds--supported by 100,000 mentors, coaches and volunteers in more than 60 countries--to solve a problem faced by seniors as they age.
The competition includes a research project addressing a challenge that Seniors face as they age, including presenting a unique solution to the problem. It also requires teams to assemble and program a small LEGO MINDSTORMS® robot, and compete in qualifying matches around the state. Teams that win any of Connecticut's seven qualifying FLL matches will compete in Connecticut FIRST's FIRST LEGO League State Championships, to be held Dec. 9 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
Girls on the three FLL teams that Barnett mentors are researching memory loss, hearing loss and computers, and are in the process of interviewing seniors about how they cope with loss of these senses and how they use technology.
"Forming the Saturday Academy and our Amazing Girls Conferences has been a labor of belief and love for me, the Girl Scout troops working with us, the Stepping Stones Museum, Connecticut FIRST and dozens of parents," Barnett said. "Ours is a comprehensive program that provides the hands-on learning for girls that I am so passionate about. Our three girls-only FIRST LEGO League teams have brought even more teachers, parents and mentors into the effort."
Those who desire to ignite the spark of science for girls can visit the Amazing Girls website at amazinggirlsscience.com/donate/give-today or contact Barnett at 203-855-9714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To pre-register girls in grades 5 to 9 for the conference, visit at www.amazinggirlsscience.com/programs. The cost is $25.