Middle School Girls of Innovation to Convene in Hartford to Explore STEM Careers

Connecticut’s ongoing effort to interest young girls in pursuing education in science and technology will receive another nudge when Girls of Innovation, the Connecticut Technology Council’s signature program for middle school-age girls, is held on June 13 at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford. The annual event for girls entering grades 7 & 8 provides opportunities to experience science and its challenges in a fun, interactive way, officials say.  The program highlights possible careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) through hands on, interactive activities led by real world tech professionals.WOI

The girls in attendance will have the chance to work alongside their peers as well as with an impressive roster of volunteers who are currently working, or studying, in STEM fields in Connecticut. Volunteers come from presenting sponsor Covidien as well as professionals from CTC’s member companies and the Women of Innovation program.

A year ago, close to 40 students came to the Connecticut Science Center to experience first-hand the benefits of studying and working in STEM related careers, and gave the Girls of Innovation program high marks.  Among some of the schools that have registered to participate in the 2015 program are Ansonia Middle School, Washington Middle School (Meriden), Moran Middle School (Wallingford), CT Academy of Science & Engineering, St. Brigid School (West Hartford), Bedford Middle School (Westport), Talcott Mountain Academy, Ethel Walker School, YMCA Super Girls, Irving Robbins Middle School (Newington) and King Philip Middle School (West Hartford). In addition, 12 girls from CCSU’s Institute of Technology & Business Development TRiO Educational Talent Search program have also registered.6a00d834559ccd69e20192ab43a1f4970d-500wi1imge

Mentors talk with students about their experiences and careers and guide them through the scientific challenges created by the Connecticut Science Center Staff Scientists.  Students spend time with mentors, ask questions and discuss the benefits and challenges associated with careers in STEM, and participate in hands-on science activities.

A key message of the Girls of Innovation program is to show the girls scientists “like me” and so inspire them with the confidence, enthusiasm and persistence to continue pursuing their scientific interests, officials point out, adding that studies of cultural beliefs indicate that girls begin to conclude that STEM is not for them in middle school, and these beliefs influence choices they make throughout their school years.  Stereotypes of who is a scientist are changing, but not quickly enough, organizers note.

“Spurring growth through creative invention will be a key objective of many companies in the next decade as it will provide the necessary fuel to address challenges in energy, healthcare, and global infrastructure realms. The solutions to these challenges will evolve and mature over many years and our bright and talented youth will drive the bus on this. This program is designed to galvanize our youth around invention and creative thought,” said Chuck Pagano, former Chair of the CTC Board of Directors, and VP of Technology at ESPN.CTCLogoLarge

The Connecticut Technology Council is a statewide association of technology oriented companies and institutions, providing leadership in areas of policy advocacy, community building and assistance for growing companies.  With over 2,000 companies that employ some 200,000 residents in the technology fields, the CTC seeks to provide a strong and urgent voice in support of the creation of a culture of innovation.

Nominations Sought for Women of Innovation as Efforts to Boost Representation in STEM Fields Intensifies

The Women of Innovation® awards gala, held annually, recognizes Connecticut women accomplished in science, technology, engineering, math and those who are involved in their community.  As the January 16 nomination deadline for this year’s 11th annual event approaches, organizers at the Connecticut Technology Council are urging state residents to nominate their peers, colleagues, mentors and students, teachers and business leaders, research associates and inventors. A study last fall for the U.S. Small Business Administration found that “the gender gap persists for women in STEM fields. Women have increased their representation in STEM graduate enrollment, but that increase has been uneven across STEM fields,” the report found.women of innovation

“While women have achieved parity for PhDs in biological and medical sciences, their enrollment continues to lag in some of the most entrepreneurial fields, such as bioengineering, mechanical, and civil engineering and materials science,” the report pointed out.

Last month, the White House urged women in the technology fields to share their stories as a way of attracting more women to the STEM disciplines. “When it comes to inspiring young women to pursue careers in STEM fields,” the White House website explained, “research has already shown us what works: Providing early, hands-on experience and encouragement; sharing the stories of positive role models in these fields (like the women whose stories we share); and illustrating the broad impact of roles in these fCT-ORGields.”

In Connecticut, the Women of Innovation awards recognizes women who have demonstrated and sustained accomplishment in their field, from students to business owners.  Women can be nominated for awards in eight categories:

  • Research Innovation and Leadership
  • Academic Innovation and Leadership
  • Entrepreneurial Innovation and Leadership
  • Large Business Innovation and Leadership
  • Small Business Innovation and Leadership
  • Youth Innovation and Leadership
  • Collegian Innovation and Leadership
  • Community Innovation and Leadership

The awards event is "a time for like-minded, successful women to get together and celebrate their accomplishments” – and it provides a reminder that women are excelling in fields where their ranks have traditionally been slim.  The awards will be presented at the annual Women of Innovation Gala on Wednesday, April 1 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.  Presenting sponsors include Boehringer Ingelheim, Covidien, Day Pitney and United Technologies.

Keynote speaker for the event will be Maggie Wilderotter, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Frontier Communications, headquartered in Stamford.  Wilderotter serves on the boards of Xerox Corporation and Procter & Gamble Company and on the boards of a number of non-profit organizations. Frontier Communications Corporation  offers broadband, voice, satellite video, wireless Internet data access, data security solutions, bundled offerings, specialized bundles for residential customers, small businesses and home offices and advanced communications for medium and large businesses in 27 states.It recently began offering services in Connecticut for the first time.SBA

The SBA report also found that “women are more likely to start firms that provide research and consulting services and are less likely to start firms in semiconductor and aerospace manufacturing, navigational instruments or communications equipment, which may correlate with lower reported rates of R&D activities for women STEM PhDs.”

As Connecticut seeks to promote growth in the bioscience and related technology fields, the SBA findings may be of particular note, including that “High-tech women-owned businesses may also be less likely to locate in geographic regions where they can take advantage of regional clustering of highly skilled labor and knowledge spillovers.”  The report found, however, that “female STEM PhDs value the independence of self-employment more than their male counterparts.”

The White Houwhite hosuese Office of Science and Technology Policy notes that “Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves.”

Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations and experience a smaller wage gap relative to men, according to the Office.  “Increasing opportunities for women in these fields is an important step towards realizing greater economic success and equality for women across the board.”

New Business Aims to Deliver Science to 8-11 Year-Olds, One Month at a Time

There’s a new Connecticut start-up launching this month, aiming to engage upper elementary school age children with the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through monthly hands-on activities delivered right to their doors.  What began as a response by two college friends to an entrepreneurial start-up challenge is now a full-fledged business, hoping to grow as it excites children ages 8-11 about the potential of the STEM fields. The business, Genius Box, delivers a “monthly STEM adventure to a subscriber’s mailbox, featuring a topic to explore and the tools to do so."  Each box will contain activities or experiments that further illustrate the topic of the month, providing hands on learning opportunities through a narrative “challenge” posed in each box.genius box  horiz

Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah received second place at Demo Day at Northeastern University a few years ago, and “with much excitement and encouragement,” decided to launch a company based on their idea.  Next was a successful crowdfunding campaign in fall 2013, which led to initial beta testing and feedback collection, including work with students in Connecticut classrooms to obtain reactions from students and their teachers.  Earlier this year, a prototype Genius Box was provided to middle-school age participants at the Connecticut Technology Council’s annual Girls of Innovation program.

Genius Box aims to connect kids with real life examples of science, technology, engineering, and math to further the understanding of these critical subjects “in a way that resonates with upper elementary school aged children.” The topic to be explored in December’s inaugural Genius Box will be Kaleidoscopes.  The company’s website is now accepting one month, three month or six month subscriptions for the monthly deliveries.

“We are excited to staco foundersrt this new chapter,” said co-founder and CEO Kate Pipa, who lives in Shelton. “And we are excited to bring kids a new box each month of hands-on fun that also doubles as a learning opportunity and is making social impact for the kids and for our partner organizations.”

Co-founder and COO Shivangi Shah adds, “We hope that the next generation of geniuses will embrace STEM and apply it to the world around them. We want them to believe they can change the world.”

Each box includes a narrative story and activity cards to explain topic and activities in a fun, engaging way, and three or more activities and experiments in each box.  Each monthly kit is “designed in a way that puts each genius in the driver's seat to solve the challenge at hand, with minimal help from adults.”

Extending the Benefits

Pipa and Shah have also added a social benefit component to their sales. For each box sold, Genius Box Inc. will donate $1.00 to a partner nonprofit. December’s partner organization is Connecticut-based ManyMentors, which connects middle and high schools students interested in the S.T.E.M. fields with near age peer mentors via interactive, engaging workshops and a highly innovative online platform.

Genius Box is also among the first social benefit corporations in the state of Connecticut, allowing the company to pursue an expanded mission that embraces societal good along with profits.  Legislation creating the new designation was approved by the state legislature earlier this year, and took effect in October.

The company’s website explains “We want to provide an experience that inspires, encourages, and empowers kids to think big. To be curious. To experiment. To make mistakes. To explore new topics. Overall, to be the change makers and problem-solvers of tomorrow, today.”  Aiming directly at its target audience, the site invites, “Adventure on, geniuses. Your monthly mystery awaits.”

The company is currently shipping only within the United States, and offers free shipping.  More information about Genius Box is available at www.geniusbox.me.

Photo:  Kate Pipa and Shivangi Shah


Nonprofit Seeks Support for STEM Mentoring Initiative Focused on Women, Underserved

It is, after all, National Mentoring Month.  It makes perfect sense, therefore, for a fledgling Connecticut-based nonprofit devoted to mentoring young women and students of color to increase their presence in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) to launch a fundraising initiative.

ManyMentors, a nonprofit that promotes peer mentoring to increase the interest, pursuit and attainment of STEM degrees among underrepresented students, has kicked-off an Indiegogo crowdraising campaign aimed at supporting the development of “the world’s first mobile mentoring app and complementary online platform,” according to the campaign’s website.  mentors logo

Online contributions will also support the ongoing outreach and advocacy activities of ManyMentors in Connecticut, and support outreach activities planned for establishment of student chapters at universities nationwide.  The fundraising initiative runs through February 10, 2014.

The organization’s website notes that “of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation.”  The nonprofit hopes to “make STEM mentoring more mainstream among middle and high school students, college and graduate students, as well as working professional.”  As their slogan emphasizes, “If they never know, they will never go!”

Keshia Ashe, co-founder and CEO of ManyMentors, gave a well-received TEDx talk in Springfield, MA last fall about the important role of mentors and role models to encourage our young people to pursue degrees and careers in STEM. Keshia Ashe is a University of Virginia alumna, and current Ph.D. candidate in Chemical Engineering at the University of Connecticut. Since the age of 11 she has been actively involved in several youth-serving groups and advisory boards, and has had many opportunities to travel nationally and internationally as a speaker and trainer. mentors app

The ManyMentors program primarily serves middle and high school students located in the state of Connecticut. The organization currently implements onsite mentoring opportunities with local community partners, and is piloting the mobile mentoring with a select number of mentor/mentee pairs.  Supporting organizations of ManyMentors include the CBIA Education Foundation, Granville Academy of Waterbury, and CPEP (Catalysts Powering Educational Performance).

Tiffany St. Bernard, the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of ManyMentors, is a University of Connecticut alumna, and current Ph.D. student in Genetics at Cornell University. She is passionate about ManyMentors because she has experienced first-hand the positive benefits of having many mentors guide her through academic life, beginning during her years at Tunxis Community College.

Using social networking, ManyMentors aims to connect students from a wide variety of academic and ethic backgrounds with the hopes that these relationships will stimulate, sustain, and support students’ interest in, pursuit, and attainment of STEM degrees.

Among the upcoming activities ManyMentors is sponsoring this year are a series of “STEMinars” at UConn, beginning in February, aimed at “Preparing Tomorrow's Female STEM workforce, Today.”  The sessions are designed to “increase awareness of female STEM workplace issues by being exposed to female STEM professionals mentors photowho will discuss topics such as career placement basics, salary and promotions, communication, creating support groups, being culturally aware, finding a work/life balance, and appreciating the value of staying true to oneself in male-dominated fields.”

ManyMentors is moving forward with three central efforts:

  • Creating partnerships between K-12 students, institutions of higher education and STEM professionals to stimulate and sustain student interest in the STEM fields.
  • Selecting college mentors with a vested interest in sharing their best advice, wisdom, and insight to support the academic, professional, and cultural development of their mentees.
  • Providing ongoing trainings for mentors to share best practices and cultivate a community of STEMentors.

 Photo:  Keshia Ashe (left) and Tiffany St. Bernard

Teacher Training in STEM Fields to Expand in CT

Connecticut’s drive to improve both teacher training and the caliber of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education being provided to students across the state received a boost with the announcement that the Connecticut Science Center would be tripling the capacity of its teacher professional development program, the result of a grant from Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell.

The number of teachers participating in the program will increase from 500 to 1,500 annually over the next few years, officials said, with the goal of giving educators the tools they need to meet rigorous new state and national standards for STEM education and core curricula.

Governor Dannel Malloy, State Education Commissioner Stephan Pryor, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Hartford’s 2012 Teacher of the Year Keith Sevigny, photoa past participant in the professional development program, were among those joining Connecticut Science Center President and CEO Matt Fleury in making the announcement.

In addition to expanding its capacity to serve more teachers, the newly named Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Academy for Teachers at the Connecticut Science Center will also award graduate-level college credit through Charter Oak State College for certain programs.  Academy offerings include Student Engagement Strategies, Inquiry Teaching and Learning, STEM Education Units, Science Content Workshops, Engineering Practices, and Science Coaching. Teachers completing the covered courses can earn a total of nine credits toward their Master’s degrees over a three-year period.

Governor Malloy said the announcement made it a day of “celebration,” emphasizing that the impact “will be played out in the years to come.”  Reiterating his commitment to education and economic development, the Governor said this effort is another example of initiatives designed to “allow our state to compete.”  He  noted the BioScience Connecticut initiative and recently approved growth plans for the University of Connecticut as further indications of the state’s commitment.

Described as a “high-impact professional development program for educators,”  the Academy is “committed to supplying educators with professional development experiences that support rigorous science and curriculum standards.”   Commissioner Pryor, underscoring the challenges in education, pointed out that “15 countries do better than the U.S. in science and 24 do better in math.”  Pryor added that “we can prepare students for jobs of the future, but not if we are slipping in math and science.”

Officials pointed out that new nationally mandated benchmarks such as the Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Education Standards will require teachers to seek training to improve the way they teach science and integrate it with the rest o f their curriculum.

“We want every child in the state to be able to compete,” said Joyce Mandell. “Teaching teachers how to connect with their students is one of the most important things we’ve ever done.  We’re very proud of our association with the Connecticut Science Center.”

Citing a story published in U.S. News, the website CT Stem Jobs, reported last month that about 20 percent of all American jobs are now in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, with half of those open to workers who don't have a four-year college degree, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution called "The Hidden STEM Economy."

Those jobs constitute a "hidden STEM economy," the Washington, D.C.-based think tank says, because they are "prevalent in every large metropolitan area," but many people believe at least a bachelor's degree is necessary to work in careers that require STEM skills. Many of these so-called "blue-collar" stem jobs are in construction, installation, manufacturing and health care. They include registered nurses, mechanics, carpenters and electricians.

"Of the $4.3 billion spent annually by the federal government on STEM education and training, only one-fifth goes towards supporting sub-bachelor's level training, while twice as much supports bachelor's or higher level-STEM careers," the report says. "The vast majority of National Science Foundation spending ignores community colleges. In fact, STEM knowledge offers attractive wage and job opportunities to many workers with a post-secondary certificate or associate's degree."