A group of Stevens students have taken on an important mission – to engage women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, starting at a very young age.
Advancing STEM education – which researchers and policymakers agree is vital to preparing the nation’s 21st century workforce and sustaining economic growth – is a pillar of Stevens’ ten-year strategic plan as well as a major national effort.
The Stevens STEM Ambassadors, members of a new pilot program led by Stevens undergraduates, are doing their part by conducting on- and off-campus outreach programs to drum up interest in STEM fields, specifically targeting women and minorities, who are persistently underrepresented in technical fields.
“I believe there is great power in STEM,” said Laura Josephson ’14, an environmental engineering major. “I truly believe that the people who are involved in STEM have the power to change the world.”
On Nov. 16, 2013, the STEM Ambassadors welcomed a group of 40 Girl Scouts – all Northern New Jersey fifth- through eighth-graders – for an afternoon of engaging, STEM-related activities.
With hands-on, group projects to solve real, complex problems which required basic mechanical engineering principles – like building a small stool that can bear weight out of newspaper and cardboard – the Girl Scouts were exposed to the fun and excitement of science, engineering and technology.
They also met female role models – Stevens STEM majors who spoke to them about what it is like to study technical subjects at an elite research university and encourage more diversity in science and engineering.
“It is very important that we get more women involved in STEM, and one of the ways that we can do that is through encouragement and showing them that they are not alone!” said Josephson.
“This program piqued the girls’ interest in STEM and allowed them to feel like this is something possible for them to do,” added Kristie Damell, associate director of student life at Stevens and one of the program’s advisors. “It really resonated with them to hear it from college-aged young women, who they can relate to.”
The STEM Ambassadors also visit high local schools and community groups to enhance the participation of young women and underrepresented minorities in STEM.
So far, 20 STEM Ambassadors from a wide variety of majors have been trained.
Many of them were once themselves inspiring scientists and engineers who had to overcome doubt and negativity about their qualifications and goals.
“Being a woman and a minority interested early on in STEM, it was hard to be able to express my interest in engineering without receiving a non-encouraging look or comment,” said Ashley Montufar ’14, a mechanical engineering major.
“It is imperative that we remind these young people that they not only are as good, but that they have the power to accomplish great things,” added Josephson.
The Stevens Computer Science Department, which has been heavily involved in recruiting female computer science majors, is a key funding source for the STEM Ambassadors program.
Angela Atura, Armando Rosa, Emily Heisler, Francesca Ronzitti, Laura Cerrito, Michelle Espitia, Natalie Barillaro, Neda Ameri, Sara Savoia and Soany Heredia participated in the Girl Scout event.