Startling statistics and personal experience came together and inspired Sandy Marshall, founder of the NASCAR Foundation, to create a program called Project Scientist. Women fill just 25 percent of jobs in fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (popularly known as STEM).
“I was reading the research on why there were so few women and girls in STEM,” Marshall explains. “I began to reflect on my own history of dropping out of a pre-med major due to a lack of role models and gender stereotyping. Furthermore, I had a 4-year-old daughter with a passion for science, and I couldn’t find a program that fit our needs.”
In 2012, Marshall teamed two teachers with six girls who had STEM aspirations and six STEM professionals. The group worked together to explore biology, engineering and information technology – giving the girls an education they couldn’t have gotten on their own. “Girls are bombarded with images, stories and comments that STEM just isn’t for them,” Marshall says. “And they are exposed to very few images of females thriving in STEM careers at a high level.”
Marshall expanded Project Scientist to include five-week day camps at the University of North Carolina – and this summer is bringing the program to Pasadena. Scientists from Caltech will run a five-week camp full of summer activities at Longfellow Elementary School from June through August. Caltech physicist Spyridon Michalakis and neuroscientist Crystal Dilworth will be providing mentorship as girls in Southern California learn about everything from zoology to transport engineering to app development – in a collaborative and positive environment that discourages competition.
Parents can also do their part at home. “Parents are the biggest influence of a girls’ interest in STEM,” says Marshall. “Even if you don’t work in a STEM field, you can validate [your daughter’s] interests through conversations and explorations together. Parents showing their approval and support for their daughter’s STEM interests will continue to inspire her for a lifetime.”