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AAUW awards DSU grant to increase female participation in STEM fields

December 21, 2015

Dakota State University female faculty and students are on a mission when it comes to science, technology and math education. With the help of a recently awarded American Association of University Women grant, their FemSTEM project will focus on increasing awareness of females in STEM fields and career opportunities through outreach to middle and high school students.

The mission of AAUW is to advance equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research. The team of DSU faculty, Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, Pam Rowland, and Dr. Barbara Szczerbinska and student researchers Sara Scimone, Molly Elwood, Grace Estridge, Jessica Kemp, Stephanie Plucker, Jamie Roeder and Jessica Zylla, understand that mission and are preparing to address the issue of the female minority in the STEM fields through the FemSTEM project.

Research shows to have a positive impact on girls in STEM, the student engagement needs to start in middle school and early high school. Based on this research, the FemSTEM activities will focus on 7th-9th grade girls to establish mentoring relationships between DSU students and faculty. To help establish those relationships during classroom visits, the college students will serve as positive role models and talk about their experiences of studying at DSU in a field that is predominately male, as well as discuss their career goals and their excitement to work in the STEM field. They will share thoughts on how they have become empowered and have dealt with barriers. The project goal is to reach 200 middle school and 120 high school freshmen students through school visits during the spring 2016 semester.

Along with building relationships, this project will empower the girls by allowing them an engaging and successful opportunity for programming simple computing and science projects and will open their eyes to the opportunities that are available to them. For example, during the middle school classroom visits, the implementation of a mobile Dot and Dash Robotic Programming Lab will help inform and inspire the middle school girls. The Dot and Dash Robots teach girls about the linear programming process by using languages like Blockly, Path or Xylo. From there, the girls learn how to manipulate the robots by coding them to perform different tasks. By taking this mobile lab into the middle schools, this allows girls to discover active programming and instant results.

Similarly for high school freshmen, using simple cryptography and science kits, as well as online coding resources, will teach girls about applications of algorithms, mathematics, programming and science. By utilizing the robots and other science and technology kits, the college students can show the middle and high school girls how fun it can be to work with programming, information technology, math, and science.

The FemSTEM project will not only be available for the middle and high school students, but also include the entire DSU campus community and the local area community by the use of social media and blogs as well as a website dedicated to women in STEM careers. Currently, the DSU efforts to increase and maintain the female students in STEM fields include the DSU Women in Science and Technology (WIST) program and the GenCyber: Cybersecurity Camp for Girls.

The 2016 GenCyber: Girls in Cyber Security Camp will take place June 20-24 and is available for 7th-9th grade girls. This is the second year DSU has hosted the one week event which allows girls to explore their interests in cybersecurity through learning programming, networking, and security. For more information about the camp, visit http://www.gencybergirls.camp.

About the AAUW

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) is the nation’s leading voice promoting equity and education for women and girls. Since our founding in 1881, AAUW members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day — educational, social, economic, and political.