By Dirk Perrefort The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.
As an engineer with Praxair, Tamara Brown wanted to do more to attract women into the fields of math and science and technology.
That's why in 2006 she founded Tech Savvy, a program that encourages female middle school students to enter careers in the fields of technology and engineering. Since then more than 8,000 young women have entered the program, which was launched nationally last year.
For her achievements, Brown, who works in Praxair's Danbury facility, was recently named one of Fortune Magazine's Heroes of the Fortune 500. She was also recognized for her work through the program in 2011, when she was named a "White House Champion of Change."
"Sometimes all you need to do is give girls the options, tell them that they can, and provide an environment where they are free to explore," Brown said. "I was fortunate as a child, I had a wide range of opportunities and was encouraged to study and do well in math. I was never told that a girl couldn't do those things."
While many girls are interested in technical fields in their early years, Brown said that interest tends to wane in high school.
"What we are trying to do is capture and encourage that interest while they're young," Brown said.
Through the program, middle school girls participate in a one day conference where they can meet females already working in STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) careers and have an opportunity to create real products that have meaning in their lives.
"The key is to allow them to explore different fields in a fun way," Brown said, adding that the conference also incorporates a variety of other skills including negotiating, interviewing techniques and critical thinking.
The program also includes activities for parents and teachers to help them encourage young women to enter STEM careers.
"When I was thinking about college my initial interest was in psychology," Brown said. "Then one of my advisors called my parents and mentioned that I had a great aptitude for math and science. That really started the conversation for me."
Brown started the program through the American Association of University Women when she was based in Praxair's Buffalo facility in 2006.
Last year, the company donated $105,000 to launch the effort in nearly a dozen cities throughout the United States.
"Ensuring there is a population of eager, focused and high performing women in STEM fields is vital to our company's success," said Sue Neumann, the head of the company's giving program. "We are proud to support the AAUW and programs like Tech Savvy that help ensure young women are prepared to meet the complex technological challenges facing the world today."
In March, more than 650 middle school girls from throughout Connecticut participated in the first ever Tech Savvy program in the state, which was held at Central Connecticut State University.
"Because of the opportunities provided, more young women are becoming empowered to change the world," Brown said.