The Year of ScienceJanuary 29, 2009
The Year of Science 2009, a national grassroots celebration, launched earlier this month in Boston, Massachusetts. In its honor, museums, federal agencies, schools, scientific societies, and other nonprofit and for-profit organizations will host events in all 50 states and in 13 countries. The celebration is the brainchild of the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a collaborative that represents more than 500 organizations interested in promoting the importance of science to the public.
COPUS participants are bringing science to their communities in innovative ways through lectures, workshops, blogs, and videos. Members of AAUW of New Hampshire, for example, are using the COPUS network to advertise their half-day program “Educational Opportunity – Myth or Reality? Equity is Still an Issue,” at which speakers plan to address gender equity in educational policy and practice. National Girls Collaborative Project regional liaisons are also using the network to reach out to local organizations working on STEM-related projects. Using her branch connection to COPUS, liaison Kimberly Edgar was able to bring the Northeastern Girls Collaborative together with a similar organization focused on ocean science and increase the number of people who heard about the collaboratives’ grant opportunities.
Despite these highlights, organizations or events accenting girl-serving programs in STEM remain woefully underrepresented. A search of the directory revealed just a few organizations whose mission is to increase the representation of women in science or address best practices for improving women’s understanding and engagement with science throughout their lifetime. In light of COPUS’ mission “To make science more accessible to everyone” and my own position working with the National Girls Collaborative Project, I found the situation disheartening, especially considering recent research from the Association of American Colleges and Universities that shows a pattern of reduced participation by women from undergraduate to doctoral level across a majority of STEM fields.
Similar to COPUS, the National Girls Collaborative Project was founded to leverage the power of a network to create the tipping point for women in STEM. Numerous programs and initiatives to create gender equity in STEM have been implemented only to lose effectiveness or fade away. Had these programs had the benefit of collaboration with other girl-serving projects, organizations, and institutions, along with the tools to assess their efforts, their capacity for broader impact could have been substantially increased.
Today the NGCP has successfully built a directory of more than 1000 girl-serving programs reaching more than 2.4 million girls. Fourteen active regional collaboratives are on the rise thanks to leadership teams representing 63 different organizations. The ability of this network to grow and sustain itself is an exciting prospect that I dedicate myself to everyday, but until we are able to strongly connect this specialized hub with the broader STEM community, I fear we may have a long way to go before we see gender equity in science.