Girls and Science

by , posted on July 22nd, 2015 in Science Fun

sally ride

I was recently asked by Green Works to share a story for their #NaturalPotential campaign. You can learn more about their campaign by watching this video. This is my story…

I tried to hide my geekiness throughout most of my grade school years. I don’t know how it happened, but somewhere along the way, I picked up that being smart or passionate wasn’t cool. I mean it was if you were a girl at the tippy top of the class, but for someone like me who was a solidly B/B+ student? Not so much.

I only remember two teachers from seventh grade; both were passionate: Ms. Herrera and Mr. Bell. Mr. Bell taught social studies, sang in a barbershop quartet and spent an entire class period explaining why he was voting for Dukakis. He also imparted wisdom on the usage of extension cords. “Always plug in from the AV equipment to the wall. Always unplug from the wall to the AV equipment.” Mr. Bell’s handlebar mustache was disconcerting, but I respected the man.

Ms. Herrera was my seventh grade science teacher. She had short curly brown hair, thick glasses. She was a powerhouse. This was a woman who went to the local butcher and bought a cow’s heart to dissect in front of group of seventh graders. She treated us like we were capable of handling science of this nature. We weren’t, but I was mesmerized. I even forgot about playing dumb, and raised my hand a dozen times to ask questions. Later, I felt foolish about it, but in the moment? It was cool.

One day Ms. Herrera said she was looking for an assistant. This assistant would help take care of the animals, clean up the lab, and basically help her out. Obviously, this was a fool’s mission. No middle schooler in his or her right mind would sign up for it. They’d be a social pariah. A geek. A brown-noser. Why was I raising my hand?

Since my hand was the only one in the air, I got the job. I learned a bit about science during my lab assistant gig. But what I learned most of all was that there were times when I could be my normal geeky self. In fact, my normal geeky self was encouraged.

I grew to have a profound appreciation for science. And maybe I owe it all to seventh grade science. Maybe it’s what helped develop my curiosity about people (why do we do the things we do?) and how our environment (ecology) shapes us. Those two things are at the root of everything I do. It’s why I’m still so fascinated about family dynamic, our origins, and our home lives.

marie daly

But here’s something I’ve observed over my years: The traditional norms in place often dismiss the importance of all of those things that I and so many other women write about. Home, family, human development? Those things aren’t really worth consideration (nor real pay). They’re “cute”. Real science is done by men. It’s too hard for lady brains. And look, if females go into science, they’ll all just cry and fall in love with the male scientists anyway. Who needs that? Ugh.

And while I admit, my interest lie primarily in the soft science of psychology and development, which in my opinion is often marginalized and under-appreciated, women are equally relegated to the sidelines when it comes to the hard sciences too. Despite the fact that women have crushed it in all fields of science.

When science is dominated by males, we only get 50% of the the picture. Which leads me to a question: Doesn’t science deserve better than that?

missy cummings

The answer is, Heck yeah it does! So how can we help women become scientists?

It starts with female mentors. That is why I’m excited to partner with Green Works in their #NaturalPotenial campaign. I believe that our girls are just as capable as our boys in making breakthrough advancements in science. They just need a little encouragement to drown out the noise from those that erroneously believe otherwise. (Some Nobel Prize winners ain’t all that smart).

So let’s disrupt the norm. Raising a boy and a girl in this current climate where they are allowed to challenge stereotypical conventions is exciting! Girls, you are strong, you are smart, and don’t be ashamed of it.

Here are five ways we can all disrupt the norm and be good mentors. So go on with your bad selves you science and math rebels!

1. Read science articles and share them with the kids. Ask their thoughts about it. Here’s a great one from this week.
2. If your daughter is struggling with math, contact her teacher and ask for a recommendation for a tutor.
3. Get hands on. We’re learning more and more about the importance of hands on learning and play in education. Check out these S T E M projects that encourage kids to play.
4. Share the achievements of women in STEM with your daughters and your sons. Here are a few names to get you started: Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Missy Cummings, Ester Takeuchi, Marie Daly, Caterina Fake, Lisette Titre
5. Encourage your kids to feel confident in who they are and love them for it.

mae jemison

Finally I have to say, I love where I am in life right now. I love that I have been able to write about human ecology and development for as long as I have. And I am so grateful to Ms. Herrera for allowing me to be myself—science lover and all. Thanks for encouraging me all those years ago, Ms. Herrera.

ps. Want more hands-on STEM projects to do with the kids? This site is one of my favorites.

This post is sponsored by Green Works. Green Works, the naturally sourced cleaner, is supporting girls in STEM programs to help the next generation of female scientists unleash their power and discover their #NaturalPotential. Inspired by their own female scientist founder, Green Works is collaborating with the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to engage girls and inspire them to explore careers in science.

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