STEM Strength

Inspired by Dr. Hope Jahren’s memoir, “Lab Girl” the organization Women Who Care raised $10,000 to build a new program devoted to STEM for middle school girls in Peterborough, New Hampshire, interested in personal growth and education through technology and science. This call to action is another step forward for women in scholarship, starting in this case, as it should in all cases, from a young age. Early empowerment is more concrete than a late discovery of it, and our education systems would do best to implement that ideal.

The effects of standard education models and the duality of education as a medium for transformation are critical topics to consider as potential parents, and more importantly, as caring citizens of this country.

For the United States, institutional models of education emphasize specific control over students, as discussed in In Keywords essay Education by Elizabeth Gruner. Generally, and historically speaking, U.S. institutions enforce agendas revolving around predominantly male viewpoints, to promote male ascension to the upper crusts of our American pie. So to see a group of women united by the noble cause of building an alternative mode of learning for young girls which challenges that normative structure is exhilarating.

The program, called Lab Girls, employs women leaders to teach young girls applications of science, math and engineering and to act as strong female role models to stress the belief and importance of women’s expertise and contribution in a male dominated field of professionalism.

The thought of middle school girls, out in the woods, gathering information together, reporting back to their female leader was reminiscent of Laura Ingalls, her sisters, and their relationship to their mother. I imagine the girls of Peterborough as obedient and hardworking, focused on the task at hand, guided by nature and a common goal, as Laura and her sisters were – a hands on approach to making the community they live in a better place. Lab Girls is a revival of the virtues of Laura Ingalls, but with modern STEM infused overlay.

Gruner points out the importance of students serving their own local communities, as Laura and her sisters did for their “family community.” This type of involvement and action breeds humans of strong moral character and virtue. Further it’s been proven through history that tactile hands on learning and decision making yields strong leaders, so for Women Who Care to make the strategic decision to fund a program specifically for middle school girls, is taking a stand for the specific cause to set American girls up for positions of power and importance, through fields typically dominated by males.

As a skeptic, I was aware of my excitement over this wonderful sounding Lab Girls program, but I found myself asking how many of these young girls were admitted by choice, and how many were admitted because of the influence of their parents’ agenda for their children, OR by the influence of their bulging pocketbooks.

After briefly researching the Town of Peterborough through their website, I reached the conclusion that the town is predominantly white and upper middle class (not a single photo features a person of color, only young white children playing around buildings that look like they haven’t changed since colonial times. In fact, Peterborough has two Heritage and Conservation Committees in act to preserve the history of their town).

I have no qualms with the program. I have no qualms with Peterborough. In fact, I think their cause is true and great. They simply exist as we all exist… But I had to do more research, because I was curious. So I tooled over to the Women Who Care’s web page. I learned they are quite prolific in their efforts towards uniting and engaging communities in positive activities, like Lab Girls. My only question now is, why hasn’t a Lab Girls happened in Memphis or Milwaukee or Detroit? And how long will that take?


2 thoughts on “STEM Strength”

  1. I really like your comments on accessibility. I think it’s so easy to produce these programs without considering how difficult they can be for children and adolescents to access without the proper family situation to support that access. A lot of these programs have a steep tuition, or require expensive supplies like a child supplying their own laptop. In high school I was involved in FIRST robotics and there were so many ways the program ignored students without the material wealth to compete in the program.

  2. I grew up in a household in which science has always been treated as very important. I’m majoring in biochemistry and working in medical research, so I growing up in a very STEM-based environment benefitted me a lot. On the other hand, my sister has decided to go to law school instead of focusing on a scientific career. I think that young girls need to learn more about the importance of science, but it needs to be understood that not all girls will want to grow up to be doctors or researchers. The underlying message of this camp (that women can be successful in male-dominant careers) is still relevant, no matter what academic interest.

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