Myriam Mirzakhani, Ada Lovelace, Rachel Carson, and Annie Jump Cannon – are these household names? No.
Despite being key contributors and at the top of their field, you’ve most likely never heard of these scientists. Women are far under-represented in all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields. While early on girls share interest in STEM equally with boys, by the time they reach high school and college, that figure declines significantly. The Femme in STEM initiative at the University of Denver seeks to change those statistics by working with and encouraging young women to pursue their dreams and education.
Operated out of the Colorado Women’s College by DU alumnae, Femme in STEM focuses on bringing elementary and middle school age girls to campus and exposing them to college labs, projects, and research. To do this, we invite girls ages 9-13 from across the Front Range of Colorado to participate in a day-long event at DU. We allow the girls to engage both deeply in one field and broadly across many STEM fields by combining hour long activities in the morning with an afternoon science fair. After getting hands-on experience in the morning in anything from secret messages to liquid nitrogen to even extracting your own DNA, the girls present their findings to their peers. This is a high-energy affair where the girls get to shine and demonstrate their knowledge for their peers, in addition to being able to explore more STEM fields than the one they were exposed to in the morning.
Femme in STEM has a fast and furious history and only continues to expand. In May of 2015 five DU students, fed up with the continuous struggle of women in STEM – particularly at the collegiate level – applied for a grant through the Pioneer Leadership Program to develop and host a program focused on empowering women in STEM. We were lucky enough to receive this grant, and the Let’s Put the Femme in STEM initiative was born.
After further research, we decided to focus on girls ages 9-13 as this is the precipice where girls turn from being equally enthusiastic about STEM as boys, to falling drastically behind. Knowing the five of us wouldn’t have kept pursuing STEM without strong encouragement, role models, and opportunities, we felt strongly about providing an event that would bring these girls to campus to interact with current, passionate students.
Our first event in November 2015 was attended by 50 girls from three schools and featured five different activities. After receiving another grant from the DU Pioneer Leadership Program, we were able to host an event in April of 2016 with 60 girls from six schools and six activities. Though we have now graduated, Femme in STEM was able to find a new home in the Colorado Women’s College at DU as a key STEM program in their re-imagination. Read more about Femme in STEM and CWC here. Our 3rd event, happening May 13, 2017 will host 75 girls from 25+ schools and feature 6-8 activities.
With so many cultural barriers stacked against them, it is vital to give girls the tools to overcome that stigmatism in the future by showing them what they are capable of now. Sitting in front of them at the end of each Femme in STEM event, asking what they know and receiving enthusiastic explanations of cryptography, forensic chemistry, and the mating rituals of crickets, as well as one “I made up a song about math!”, it is always evident we have been successful. They will doubt themselves for one day less, and that is itself a step forward.
Interested in creating the next generation of female scientists, engineers, geographers, physicists, and mathematicians? To get involved, attend one of our events, present new programming, or learn more about past fun, contact us and tell us your ideas! We’ll find a place for you in this exciting new initiative.