The STEM Think Tank and Conference that occurred last week at Harpeth Hall School is one of my favorite events in Nashville. It's so exciting to see the brainpower that gathers with a passion for promoting education for girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.) For the last two years, I've walked away from the conference with a restored faith in the potential for education, a reverence for the committment on the part of teachers to education for girls, and a sense of awe about the creative tools these educators are using to take STEM education for girls to the next level.
This year marks the first year of the Center for STEM for Girls, a new initiative at Harpeth Hall under the leadership of Dr. Stacy Klein-Gardner, previously an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Vanderbilt University. With a Leadership Grant from the Ford Foundation, the center seeks to increase participation by girls in science, technology, engineering, and math studies in high school and college and to encourage them to aspire to STEM careers.
The Think Tank and Conference, which ran from July 18-20, 2012, was kicked off by Keynote Speaker Chris Rogers, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Tufts University and, more importantly in this context, Director of the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts. The Center develops tools to support engineering education beginning in kindergarten, including the very popular SAM Animation, which allows students and teacher to make stop-motion teaching videos. Rogers also leads research on how gender impacts engineering education, and how engineering can improve literacy in schools.
The next two days involved over 60 hands-on workshops. These included workshops on project-based learning, underwater robotics, flipped instruction of biology, and engineering cartilage regeneration. A representative from Boston University presented on college scholarship opportunities for girls in STEM, and teachers shared their successful STEM case studies like edible garden projects, water purification in Peru, and on-campus student-centered research programs.
A number of workshops demonstrated using technology as a tool for learning, including how to build your own e-textbook. Other workshops explored opportunities to empower students by empowering teachers, by building technical women’s networks at work, developing mentorship programs, and helping the girls overcome limited self-perception as scientists and engineers.
It was exciting to participate in the Think Tank focus group last fall, and thrilling to return this summer to see the growth of the event and its reach. I look forward to staying connected to the incredible men and women who attended and are devoted to increasing STEM education for girls, and the amazing students they help to shape.