FLATE’s Teacher Workshop Provides Insight & Understanding about Engaging Girls in STEM

When it comes to engaging women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) there is
not a one size-fits-all solution. While aptitude in STEM based subjects are not defined, or guided by gender, the percentage of women engaged and/or employed in STEM based fields still remains low. “There is a huge lack of people in these fields” especially in terms of entering careers in manufacturing specifically machining, precision machining, said Shannon Sweatman, director of human resources at Southern Manufacturing Technologies in Tampa. “Young women do face more challenges in coming into STEM fields’ than their male counterparts” said Kim Moore, assistant principal at Middleton Magnet High School in Tampa. Linda Austin, program manager for Tri-Regional Information Technology, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded grant program at Florida State College in Jacksonville says underutilizing women in STEM would amount to not maximizing potential of all people.

Indeed, all across the board educators and industry leaders are increasingly voicing a real and ever present challenge to engaging girls in STEM. To address some of these concerns, and to open a platform for an open dialogue, FLATE—NSF Center of Excellence in Manufacturing at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon offered a one day professional development educator workshop for Hillsborough County educators. “Recruiting Girls for STEM Pathways” workshop for teachers featured best practices for teachers, recruiters, counselors, educators and anyone interested in promoting STEM careers to girls.

More than 100 elementary, secondary and post-secondary educators as well as administrators from 13
counties attended the one day workshop which was held at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon. During the workshop, participants interacted with a panel of STEM experts, explored STEM based resources, and engaged in the development of strategic STEM based curriculum materials. “Reflection is always an important part of growth” said Moore. “Having these discussions and listening to different viewpoints and perspectives will help in everyday decision making process in my role as an administrator” Moore said.

The workshop was undoubtedly helpful and shed light on aspects of STEM that many educators may not
 have addressed in their daily curriculum and instruction agendas. Jeff Kaloostin, aerospace technology teacher at Robinson High School in Tampa admits he did not know, other than learning how to recruit girls in STEM, what to expect from the workshop. His perspectives were altered. In that the workshop reinforced Kaloostin’s belief in challenging female students to “feel that they can do the same courses” and excel in them “just like the guys.”  Discussions with other teachers and panelists also gave him new ideas on topics that he could potentially discuss with middle school students in general. “I’m going to take a few girls with me to the middle schools that feed Robinson High School, and have them talk to the classes there about being in the Aerospace program at Robinson” Kaloostin said.

The key to attracting girls/women into STEM is to keep it real, says Sweatman. “Don’t gush over them” she cautions. “Give them (women) all the same opportunities, treat everybody equal, and encourage them into the programs.” When creating a “hook” for girls, Sweatman points to engaging women in hands-on training and conducting local industry tours as effective tools in giving students a chance to witness applications of STEM in everyday life and be educated about related opportunities available in the field.

The workshop was an effective vehicle in showcasing strategies for attracting women into STEM. Given its
impact on educators across the board, Moore applauds the efforts of regional partners like FLATE, Bay Area Manufacturers Association and SMT in giving educators exposure to what is happening in industry, and helping them incorporate those experiences and ideas back into the classroom. In keeping with Moore’s sentiments, a post workshop survey shows over 60% of participants agreed, or strongly agreed that the workshop helped them learn about strategies for engaging girls in STEM. The same percentage of participants also agreed, or strongly agreed that they became more familiar with available STEM resources for recruiting and engaging girls in STEM, and more familiar with challenges associated with recruitment and retention of girls in STEM.

If you are interested in co-hosting  similar workshops contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, executive director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.fl-ate.org and www.madeinflorida.orgTo learn about FLATE’s award winning STEM focused curriculum and professional development resources visit the FLATE Wiki page where you will find a wealth of resources. For a complementary story about FLATE’s efforts to engage middle school girls in STEM and robotics, read the accompanying story about FLATE’s “All Girls Camp” in this edition of the Focus.