Real Role Models For High School STEAM Students

My name is Iccha Singh and I am a freshman at the Montgomery High School. I am a member of the Montgomery High School’s STEM Board and have been running Techsters, a tech club at the Montgomery Upper Middle School since 6th grade. My mission is to: Empower girls to speak up, lead, and get involved in the STEAM field.

Keeping this in mind, I organized and hosted a live video chat session with women working at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in an attempt to inspire girls and my peers to hear firsthand what it takes to work and become a part of a nationally recognized organization such as NASA. I believe it is very important to have female role models to look up to in the STEAM field.

According to Forbes magazine, “Tech is about people, not technology”. Then why are only 17.9% of undergraduate females receiving a bachelor degree in Computer Science, 25% women in the CS workforce, and 18% of Computer and Information Sciences women? Why is it that 13.33% of the engineers at Facebook are female, 8.26% at Yelp, and 12.75% at Pinterest? Why are only 15% of women in executive positions at their STEAM job? Why does raising a child set a woman’s salary back by 4%? Why does it add up to women making up way under half of the STEAM workforce? Why?

I had linked up the projector, my computer was ready, the connection was strong, and the audience had settled in. Now was the big moment, the time to make the call. I had had a dry run a day earlier but once again I felt the same nervousness and childlike excitement. After all this was NASA, an organization we have all known since we were young scientists marveling over astronauts who went to the moon! On one hand NASA provides us with an “out of this world” experience but on the other hand I was about to talk to real women, embarking on their real journeys on how they got to work at NASA. This was and still is a “WOW” moment for me!

The panelists included the Manager of the Engineering and Science Department at NASA, Project Coordinator, a Communications Lead, a Technology Support, and Engineers who hold leading roles. The diversity shed light on the fact that big organizations such as NASA don’t only look for people with STEAM backgrounds but all backgrounds of study. NASA needs good communicators and organizers as much as they need stellar computer scientists.

When I mentioned “real women” before I wanted to stress how authentic these women and their backgrounds were. They were not 4.0 GPA students who went to Ivy Leagues and were top of their classes.  Quite the contrary, they didn’t all have perfect scores or top notch education, they didn’t even overload on APs. They however never lost their reverence to learn. They were always eager to challenge themselves, not scared to ask questions, and didn’t take the easier route to avoid failure. These women embraced it all! While enjoying extra-curriculars, participating in community service, and focusing on academics, these women were well rounded individuals who used their passion to keep learning as their motivation to get to where they are today.

During the chat we were able to discuss the implicit bias that is present in this male dominated field. It was revealed by a data analyst working at the Marshall Space Flight Center that “80% of the time, the name ‘Jack’ will be more favorable against ‘Jill’ despite the fact that they both have the exact same resumes”. The Manager of the Engineering and Science Department elaborated NASA’s focus on diversity, inclusion, anti-harassment and equal employment opportunity. However, she also touched upon NASA being a government run organization meaning that NASA may be an equal community for all, but situations similar to Jack and Jill above occur mostly outside of the government controlled domain.

To our surprise, the panelists were encouraging us to “Not be afraid of failure.”, “Keep asking questions.”, and “Continue to learn.” This is because they knew (from their experience) that perseverance through the tough times is what stands out and propels you further. These women have overcome many of the hurdles that females encounter when working in the STEAM workforce, but they still smile when thinking about the amazing work that they are doing. Their enthusiasm for their work is what motivates them, and continues to pull them through the most adverse of times. “Being happy with what you do”, is one of the biggest takeaways from this event!

I asked the women working at NASA what they think would’ve encouraged them to get involved with STEAM at an earlier age, and their response was: “Things like this!” They firmly believed that exposure was key as well as following other inspirational women all supporting them to get involved and inspiring them to reach for the stars!

Undeniably there is an issue with women in the tech field as being underfunded and sexually harassed, but I want to continue to raise awareness amongst girls and I urge my peers to look at the statistics for themselves.

Currently, there are only 25% of all women in the computing workforce, and if this continues, in 2024 there is expected to be 1.1 million computing related jobs that remain unfilled. I believe this can change. We can make a difference! Let’s speak up, let’s tinker, let’s encourage one another, and let’s never give up so we can seal the leaky pipeline, add diversity, and gain gender neutrality in the STEAM field. Let’s strive to become the role models for the next generation of pioneering women and support each others journeys in doing so!

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Techsters 2017 Season

The fourth season of Techsters was successfully completed on March 22nd, 2017. This season was filled with a wide variety of opportunities, guest speaker sessions, out-of-school events, hands-on activities, teamwork, leadership, and fun!

I created Techsters so people like me could have an nonjudgemental space where they could meet like-minded people, collaborate on STEAM projects, and make some friends along the way. I always liked hands-on activities that helped me learn on the spot, gathering experience and not just facts from a textbook. I also really enjoyed the thrill of listening to, and interacting with professionals in the STEAM field. This is the type of environment that I hope that I have achieved to provide to middle schoolers throughout the four seasons of Techsters.

From video chatting with women at NASA, coding on terminal, demystifying unplugged activities, to storyboarding our own movie… Techsters exposed our members to the many aspects of the broad STEAM field. Now, since they have explored this much at Techsters, the rising freshman can head up to high school with a narrowed set of STEAM interests!

I am also proud to mention that we had many girls speak up, lead, and get involved at Techsters which is very important. At Techsters, we encourage each other to tinker, ask questions, collaborate, and not be afraid to mess up (because everybody does– and it’s ok). We believe that Feminism is simply the belief that males and females are equal, not one gender overpowering the other. We are here to not just listen, but to DO… to experiment with tech and gain experience behind your belt!

Thanks to everybody who joined us and helped make the season run as smoothly as it did! Please don’t hesitate to check out what we did during our meetings, check out the Activities From Meetings Page, and join our Google+ Community to keep the conversation going!

CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap– Screening and Panel Session

Today, the Princeton Public Library offered the community a wonderful opportunity to share our thoughts and experiences with likeminded, empowering women.

The documentary CODE: Debugging the Gender Gap is a must-watch! It not only describes the perceived STEAM Gender Gap issue, it provides statistics and fabulous ways to visualize them. It sheds light on real experiences that real 21st century women in the tech world are facing by their male counterparts. However, it also gives us hope by showcasing the inclusive and supportive programs that are getting more girls to break the out of the mold and try their hand at STEAM. Not only this, but us girls are bringing a fresh perspective to the table, adding diversity, and we’re getting things done!

This documentary really made me realize how much of an issue this continues to be. One quote that really captures the issue is “It’s hard to get women into a field that will underfund them and sexually harass them.”. Watch the trailer, and read more about it here: http://www.codedoc.co/about/

Following the screening I had the opportunity to be part of a panel of 4 other empowering women. We discussed STEAM education, our experiences in the field, and our visions for the future.

These types of events always get me motivated to continue to get more girls to try something new, and get involved in the STEAM field. As I mentioned during the panel session, “‘Aha moments’ are not hard to achieve when working with tech, but can surely spark interest amongst anyone.”

 

Rube Goldberg’s Granddaughter

On March 1st, 2017 Techsters members had the opportunity to video chat with Rube Goldberg’s actual granddaughter: Ms. Jennifer George. Ms. Jennifer also wrote the best-selling book The Art of Rube Goldberg.

Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a famous cartoonist, specifically remembered for his designs of machines that would complete specific tasks in crazy ways!

To start off the video chat session we introduced ourselves and I told Ms. Jennifer about what we have been doing at Techsters. She was impressed with the hands-on experience that the members get at Techsters.

From this she segued into explaining the Rube Goldberg Competition. The Rube Goldberg Competition includes teams from all over the nation comparing their extravagant machines (replicating Rube Goldberg’s designs) to complete a certain task. Here’s a cool video of the National High School Rube Goldberg Champions: https://youtu.be/rZyEunPgwwk.

Ms. Jennifer also let us know about the kits that they sell to tinker with. Check them out here: http://toys.rubegoldberg.com/

Overall, it was an amazing opportunity to be able to speak to Ms. Jennifer and we thank her so much for her time and the great conversations that we had.

 

 

First Meeting of #Techsters2017

Happy New Year everybody!

We kicked off 2017 with a fresh season of Techsters! We had our first meeting just yesterday on January 11th, 2017 after school at the Montgomery Upper Middle School.

It was not only a great turn-out but fun #UnpluggedActivities got every middle-schooler in the room communicating, collaborating and subconsciously learning some of the fundamentals of programming!

Just as everybody finished signing in and handing in their permission slips the tone of the season was set: Fun and Hands-On. By going through the array of professional and interactive guest speaker sessions as well as the tinkering that everybody will be partaking in, the members are excited for the meeting to come.

Our #UnpluggedActivity was the “Orange Game”: This was where the group got into a circle and each person choses two blocks of the same color. The objective was to get both of their colored blocks by moving either counter clockwise or clockwise, but not diagonally. From this, the members learned about algorithms, which are procedures to do things like leading devices through solving problems & fulfilling commands.

Additionally, seeing girls at this session makes me hopeful that they will continue to come, bring their friends and use Techsters as their platform to breaking the STEAM gender stereotypes in their own way 🙂

Our next meeting is after school (3-4pm) on Wednesday, January 18th at UMS. Stay posted for details about this coming week! Bring a friend and try your hand at something new.

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Girls In STEAM

Throwing it back to October 2015, with the Girls In STEAM issue of ‘New Resources’ I wrote up. Girls entering and staying in this field is still a prominent problem in our society, which is easily visible through the Leaky Pipeline image from 2011.

OCTOBER’S GIRLS IN STEAM ISSUE:

WHAT’S GOING ON?

The Leaky Pipeline Effect:

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Girls’ Leaky Pipeline:

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WHY ITS IMPORTANT? 

Because we have the potential to change the world for the better and by tapping into the STEAM field, it gives us the tools to transform our ideas into reality.

This sums it up perfectly: https://www.teenlife.com/blogs/inspiring-girls-pursue-stem

GIRLS SOLVING REAL WORLD ISSUES THROUGH STEAM:

How can big data help with war statistics? Learn more about Rebecca Steorts’s plan- http://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2015/humanitarian/rebeccalsteorts/

Lisa Seacat is finding ways to help you with the oddest and most common issues we have on a daily basis. How? Click to find out- http://www.technologyreview.com/lists/innovators-under-35/2015/inventor/lisa-seacat-deluca/

“Things you love are made with code” From cleaning up a city to sewing a dress… you have to power to change the world and its ways, when you know how to code. https://www.madewithcode.com/mentors/

An event to celebrate women in STEM, that are involved in their communities. Learn more about the inspirational women by exploring this website. http://www.ct.org/signature-event/women-of-innovation/

Anne Wojcicki is the co-founder of 23andMe. She wanted individuals to have access to their genetic information. Anne also had the goal for this to guide researchers and companies to shape their next drugs and change diagnostics according to the specific traits of their consumers. Try it out for yourself! https://www.23andme.com

WHO’S CONTRIBUTING, AND HOW?

BE PART OF THE ACTION:

You have to start somewhere, start here.

  1. https://www.madewithcode.com/projects/
  2. https://www.codecademy.com
  3. https://code.org/starwars (Star Wars is trending)
  4. https://scratch.mit.edu

World Maker Faire 2016 At the New York Hall of Science

If you didn’t hear, the World Maker Faire 2016 was at the New York Hall of Science this year, and it was the bomb.com!

Does anybody remember the Please Touch Museum, The Children’s Museum of Philadelphia? I remember that as a 6 year old, I would love to experiment with everything around me, make believe that I was something else and create oodles of fun and crazy stuff, and I went all out at the Please Touch Museum. To describe the World Maker Faire 2016 in a nutshell, it was the Please Touch Museum for any and all ages to go above and beyond and share, discover, tinker and discuss technology of all shapes and forms.

This was my first experience at a World Maker Faire event and I felt in my element! I loved the quirkiness and logic of the inventions and exhibitions as well as the hands-on and helpful vibe that every project possessed. There was so much to see that it was overwhelming at first, but there was definetly something for everybody.

The faire stressed a key point that is also emphasized at Techsters: STEAM isn’t only about coding or math, it’s about problem solving with technology to improve someone’s quality of life. It’s about improvement. It’s about innovation. It’s about achieving world peace with an app or making it easier for a senior citizen to be independent with a robot by their side. It’s an all inclusive field and everybody should test it out, no matter which way they decide to. Even if you’re into art or public speaking, their is a place for you in a community like: Code For Princeton, Coderdojo or Techsters. Anybody can learn and contribute, so don’t be intimidated!

My personal favorite part of the #WMF16 was the presentation “Nimble and Creative: A Place to Make in the Workplace” where a panel of 5 women discussed #FabricationLabs also know as #Fablabs. A maker-space where people at work can step out of their everyday duties and step into a facility where they can collaborate with others to do rapid prototyping, brainstorm with their hands and best of all, merge all of their skills to help others. You can check out their main website here: https://www.fablabs.io/. You can also see Northrop Grumman’s initiative which is Fab School Labs, an area that excited kids about STEM and provides them with the cutting-edge tech to make the most of their learning experience.   

Overall, the World Maker Faire 2016 was an event that got everyone there, and many who couldn’t make it inspired to join the #MakerMovement and try it out for themselves!

Montgomery FunFest 2016 Ft. STEM Board

Last Sunday (September 25th) Montgomery, New Jersey hosted a community event. It was loads of food, music and fun including many booths represented by Montgomery High School club members.

As part of Montgomery High School’s STEM Board, Techsters showcased our very popular Unplugged Activity. We invited everyone from pre-schoolers to parents to try out the ‘Robot and Programmer’ activity. We used Speedstacks as our ‘unplugged material’ and had one person ‘program’ or give a specific set of instructions to the ‘robot’. Their goal was to create a tower of their choice and it was a BIG HIT!

This was my first experience working with the high school STEM Board and it was a great beginning to my Freshman year. I am excited to continue to explore my field of interest at my new school and represent Techsters here, too!

California Tech Tour

Summer ’16  has been packed with interesting things. As for August, I just returned from California. Despite the beautiful weather and palm trees, Cali is known for its indigenous tech-culture. During my trip, I was lucky enough to embark upon a full-on “Tech-Tour” including trips to Google, Facebook, InstagramApple, Databricks, Lyft, 500 Startups, FFL and StitchFix. Here are my takeaways from the campuses and culture.

First of all, Silicon Valley has truly upheld its reputation for being the “Tech-hub of the United States.” Most of the places that I visited were in the infamous Silicon Valley, so the general consensus is that everyone you meet there understands the power of technology and is working on using it to change what they’re passionate about, for the better.

We started our tour with revisiting Googleplex (1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043). Having been at Google when I was 5, it was great to see the T-Rex again! However, now being older I observed much more. In fact, there was much to notice in all the places I visited. From Oculus Rift demos, Girls In STEAM  promotions and out-of-this-world Swag, each aspect was inspirational, motivational and concentrated with so much new information opening up new opportunities for our digital world.

This is how Facebook describes their culture: “Facebook is defined by our hacker culture – an environment that rewards creative problem solving and rapid decision making. We encourage people to be bold. Our open culture keeps everyone informed and allows people to move around and solve the problems they care about most. We work in small teams and move fast to develop new products, constantly iterating and improving. The phrase ‘this journey is 1% finished’ is posted on our walls, reminding us that we’ve only begun to fulfill our mission to make the world more open and connected.”

However, this doesn’t only apply to Facebook or big tech companies. I see it in many places, large and small. Whether its a new startup incubator like FFL or 500, small business or big company like Apple… each is making a difference. By empowering innovation and collectively, improving our world/lives with new technology, their services or their movements.
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To sum up and bring it back to the premise behind Techsters, we’re empowering members to get involved into the STEAM field at an earlier age because there is so much to improve, so many ways to do it and so many opportunities awaiting you!

 

Techsters 2016 Production

Throughout the Techsters 2016 season there have been many opportunities for the members to tinker, ask questions to professionals, brainstorm ideas to help our community and overall, become more motivated to continue to satisfy their curiosity for technology.

This short production captures the highlights of the most recent season of Techsters and shows just how much fun we had during every session! Some of the key points that were stressed in the course of the ten weeks include: Empowering girls to speak up and get involved, discovering how important technology is to an entrepreneur and how to use technology to make a positive impact what you’re most passionate about.

To watch, please click: https://youtu.be/0P5dJtwedxo