(370a) The Women Event: Engaging High School Girls and Their Parents in STEM

Authors: 
Daniel, S., Cornell University
Nathan, L., Cornell University
Kimura, K., Cornell University
Johnson, L. C., University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Cimada da Silva, J. A., Cornell University
Shoorideh, G., Cornell University
Thornlow, D., Cornell University
Moeller, T., Cornell University
Sorg, V., Cornell University
Gu, X., Cornell University
Lawlor, C. C., Rochester Institute of Technology
Padmanabhan, P., Cornell University
The Women’s Outreach in Materials, Energy, and Nanobiotechnology (WOMEN) Event has been organized annually by Cornell University’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Women’s Group (CBE Women) since 2010. The mission of the WOMEN Event is: (1) to provide important information about STEM fields, careers paths in engineering, and the college application process to female high school students, and (2) to develop leadership skills of female CBE graduate students who design and direct the WOMEN Event. Key features of the WOMEN Event that set it apart from other similar outreach programs aimed at women include targeting the event to high school students from rural areas and devoting a significant portion of the program to STEM careers and the college experience.

Every year, 20 to 40 10th grade girls and their parents are invited to Cornell for the WOMEN Event. Over the past 8 years, more than 200 girls have participated. These girls are from rural upstate New York, where 66% of women do not attend or complete college (statusofwomendata.org). In these areas, girls encounter fewer female role models in STEM and their parents may be unable to offer guidance on STEM career options or how to prepare for them. The WOMEN event program includes hands-on lab modules, college admission information sessions, talks highlighting STEM career opportunities, and a panel discussion with current Cornell students, all free of charge. Engaging lab modules created specifically for the WOMEN event illustrate topics in chemical engineering, including materials design, bioengineering, and process development. One unique aspect of our programming is engagement with parents. While students participate in lab activities, the parents participate in an information session on college financial aid and admissions. The parents also listen to talks from women faculty to gain insight into the many paths STEM careers can take. In the final laboratory module, parents and their daughters conduct experiments together. By reaching out to both girls and their parents, we hope to not only interest the girls in STEM but also enable their parents to support them in growing that interest into a career. After the 2016 event, 90% of the girls indicated they intend to enter a STEM field and the number of attendees interested in an engineering career doubled. While 4 past participants of the event have gone on to study engineering at Cornell, this is not intended to be a recruitment event. We instead aim to provide an experience that encourages girls to pursue their STEM passions wherever that leads them.

In addition to inspiring the girls who attend, the WOMEN Event provides a valuable learning experience for the graduate student volunteers. Five graduate students have given conference presentations about the WOMEN event. In 2017, half of the volunteers and leaders of the WOMEN event were women; a notable achievement in a department that has 30% women MS and PhD students. Volunteers have received recognition through the departmental Hooey Award, Cornell’s Cook Award, and the College of Engineering Alumni Association Award for Student Group Leadership.