Role Models Encouraging STEM careers

By Steven Henshaw Reading Eagle, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The "DreamGirls Initiative" is a nonprofit program committed to closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.  Programs include special activities so that young women can be exposed to potential career paths in science- and technology-related fields.

EXETER TOWNSHIP, Pa.

After guiding a group of middle school girls in creating a vacuum inside an empty tube, a step in the safe transfer of blood sample from a syringe for lab testing, quality engineer Claire Becker asked her students a question.

"What can go wrong with this tube before it gets to the doctor's office?"

It could break, one student answered correctly.

"So one solution was to change the material," Becker said. "It used to be glass and now it's ..."

"Plastic," the class answered in unison.

"Engineering is not all about hands-on, engineering is also about finding solutions and making sure you produce a safe product," Becker said.

She and co-presenter Justine Hayes, a research and development engineer, work for BD, a global leader in medical technologies and products for improving safety of patients and health care workers.

The two professionals along with women engineers and scientists from other industries spent a few hours at Exeter Junior High School on Saturday talking about their jobs with about 125 girls from various schools in Berks County.

The free event was hosted by the DreamGirls Initiative, a nonprofit program committed to closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. DreamGirls programming inspires middle school girls by showcasing female role models working in exciting careers, said Andrexandrea Dunkelberg, an Exeter Junior High STEM teacher who spearheaded Saturday's workshop.

While one group of girls learned about careers that could land them a role with a company such as BD, others learned from Johnson & Johnson engineers about making cosmetic products, while others explored the world of chocolate making from scientists with The Hershey Co.

The event was sponsored by the Exeter Community Education Foundation, Wyomissing Restaurant & Bakery and Giant Food's Exeter store.

Twin Valley Middle School sixth-graders Maddy Vandergoes and Lily Sharp were having all sorts of fun with the hand-on activities along with the other girls in their pod. Vandergoes said she wants to be an chemist, while Sharp said she wants to be a biologist.

The girls said Saturday's activities showed them potential career paths they had no idea existed for those with degrees in science- and technology-related fields.

That's was the main objective of DreamGirls founder Rashmi Drummond.

"The goal of DreamGirls is to show middle school girls the type of career they could pursue if they pursue STEM," she said after leading the whole group in a multiple-choice quiz focused on combating myths about women and science and technology careers.

Girls tend not to pursue STEM because they don't know all of the different kinds of career paths to which it could lead them, Drummond said.

Having the girls interact with female role models who are working as scientists and engineers removes some of the barriers. Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health engineer Eleanor Small said it's important to encourage girls who have an aptitude in science and technology to pursue STEM careers.

"I work in product development, and I use science and math every day," she explained during a break. "I had a really influential teacher who really influenced me to stay and stick with math and science, and that's why it's important to me personally."

Johnson & Johnson is highly supportive of STEM at a corporate level and requires its employees to give back to their industry and their communities, Small said. On her campus, there's an employee group whose sole focus is STEM outreach, she said.

Maria Lefchak, also a Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health engineer, said she feels its important to serve as a role model for girls, especially those who may not have a good female STEM role model in their school.

"I think things like this are really important because it's just another way to get these girls to recognize that 'Hey this is something I can do' and 'science isn't just for guys,' " Lefchak said.

More information about the DreamGirls Initiative is available at dreamgirlsinitiative.com and on Facebook. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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