Tech Savvy Brings STEM to Girls in BuffaloFebruary 17, 2011
As a chemical engineer, Tamara Brown knows how important it is that young girls be exposed to careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. To achieve this goal, the two-time president of the AAUW Buffalo (NY) Branch founded Tech Savvy. Now in its sixth year, Tech Savvy is a one-day conference designed to introduce girls in grades six through nine to the endless opportunities presented by STEM careers. The event is held at the University at Buffalo and has a lasting impact on the girls and the community.
Each year, approximately 475 girls and 250 parents and teachers take part in 20 different workshops that demonstrate how exciting science and technology can be when applied to subjects that the girls enjoy. For example, the girls can take part in Candyland, a workshop that introduces the principles of chemical reactions while allowing them to make their own candy.
Brown stresses that the aim of the program is to break down stereotypes that dictate which careers a girl should pursue and encourage freedom of choice. This is clearly demonstrated in the theme for this year’s conference: Tech Savvy Girls without Limits … Anything! Anywhere! Many reports, including AAUW’s Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, have found that there is little to no disparity between boys and girls in terms of math and science skills; however, girls begin to lose confidence in their own intelligence during their middle school years, and this is the age group that Tech Savvy specifically targets.
The conference also brings together girls from many different walks of life. Girls from the suburbs mix with girls from inner-city schools while bonding over science experiments. Brown believes that “it is a tremendous thing to not only bring these girls to Tech Savvy, but sometimes it’s the first time some of them have even been in a college environment.” This can be a determining factor in the girls’ educations. “One of the students wrote on her evaluation, ‘Now I want to go to college!’ with a huge exclamation mark, and I still have that. I thought that was so touching because that’s really why we do the conference.”
The Tech Savvy conferences are not just for kids. Parents and teachers take part in their own workshops, which focus on ways to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM. This year, adults will have the opportunity to take part in a workshop emphasizing the development of spatial awareness — a skill set that is commonly associated with boys. Brown hopes that this will also help to end the gender stereotypes that are so often enforced in the home and the narrow mindsets that contribute to barriers for girls.
This post was written by former STEM Programs Intern Gabryel Obedoza.