Girls Aren’t Who They Used to Be

October 04, 2011

And thank goodness for that.

I’m a National Girls Collaborative Project member liaison, and I recently attended the Pennsylvania STEM Girls Collaborative Conference. I was browsing around the showcase of projects, and as you would expect, there were some representatives from terrific programs designed to foster science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and careers for girls. But who really blew me away was a young middle school girl in attendance named Calista.

When I was in middle school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up, and I was not alone. I circuitously navigated my way through college and ended up in a STEM career that I loved.

What is different today is these girls know, they really know, what they want to do. They are turned on to STEM early, they like it, and they pursue it.

Take Calista, for example. She is a student at the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and is all of 14 years old. She has already created and taught a program to encourage interest in STEM; developed a program called Origami Salami, which models protein-folding science (present in RNA, DNA, air, the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain); spun off a community service from Origami Salami called Folding for Good, which uses community events to explore the fun of STEM; wrote an engineering course for middle schoolers called Investigation: Paper Engineering, which was published by Lincoln Interactive and launched as a digital mini-course offering in June 2011; and in her spare time, she maintains her Origami Salami website, Facebook page, and blog.

Calista said that her interest in STEM was sparked after attending a Summer Engineering Experience for Girls at Carnegie Mellon University. She explains, “After SEE I got to thinking deeply about my own career options and what would be needed to position myself for a future in science.” This was when she was 12 years old!

Calista explains that her mission with Origami Salami “is to inspire learners to think outside the box about STEM subjects by studying folding.” And that through folding, “students would be inspired to investigate all sorts of science possibilities and become more innovative thinkers, the kind of problem identifiers and thinkers we need in science.” Wow, girls aren’t who they used to be.

I know without question that AAUW has had something to do with this, and that makes me proud of our organization and our work. Calista’s parents have provided a wonderful environment for their daughter so she has the confidence and wherewithal to go after what she wants. AAUW has created opportunities and removed roadblocks so that young women like Calista think nothing of pursuing their dreams no matter where they lead — science, business, politics, or something in between. We are not finished yet, but we should take a moment to celebrate successes like Calista’s.

If you’d like to know more about what AAUW is doing with STEM, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @AAUWSTEM!

This blog post was written by AAUW Director-at-Large and NGCP Regional Liaison Dot McLane.

AAUWguest By:   |   October 04, 2011


  1. Avatar advocatepat says:

    Thanks for keeping Calista’s story and others like it in the forefront. I keep thinking of the three girls who were winners in the international Google science competition, and know that the next breakthrough advances in medicine, science or technology will come from young women like them. I wish such encouragement was given to me to pursue a STEM career. My life may have taken a different direction.

  2. Gloria Gloria says:

    Great post, Dot. Opening up opportunities for girls to explore and be exposed to STEM careers makes all the difference. I’ve taken my daughters to so many events that just werent avalable when I was a girl–and whether or not they choose a STEM career they know what’s out there!

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