ProWIN September Luncheon Synopsis: Closing the Gender Gap in STEM: It Takes a Village

We were honored to have Stephanie Espy speak at our September 12th Luncheon.  Stephanie, who holds degrees from MIT, University of California Berkeley and Emory, is also a 2018 Porsche Driving Force Award Honoree for her efforts to publicize and remedy the acute U.S. STEM gender gap. Her book, “STEM Gems” and its accompanying curriculum promote STEM careers to young girls. She is also the Founder of MathSP, the only STEM-focused academic coaching company in the state of Georgia.

Stephanie’s lifelong STEM exposure made her the ideal candidate to take on this challenge.  Her Mother holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering, and instead of retiring, now takes Calculus at Georgia State University and studiously prepares and reviews her lessons daily.

With such a strong role model and a relentlessly curious mind, it is not surprising that Stephanie soon became an undergraduate STEM student following high school.  At this time, all of her peers were in STEM classes. Many who graduated with her went into law or education. Stephanie went on to work with BP as a Chemical Engineer, just one of the ground-breaking positions she’s held in her career.

Stephanie was the sole woman onsite with BP learning all about how polymers were made.  Afterward, she worked for BP and Sudbury England; “…a great experience for her developing computer simulation models”.  Again, she was the sole woman on location. Especially significant in her BP role was, at the time, the US exported all of its man-made rubber products. (BP had a U.S. Government contract). Her research ultimately revealed that the structure of natural rubber plants could not be replicated in the laboratory.  Afterward, Stephanie moved on to the University of California Berkeley for her graduate school chemical engineering degree.

Throughout her very informative program, which revealed the multiple obstacles for women in STEM, Stephanie challenged us to encourage young women to enter engineering and technology or other fields.  She informed us that many women are working to change the extensive technical engineering STEM gap, and that social media campaigns #MakeWhat’sNext, #GiveGirlsRoleModelsCampaign, the organization WITS and Girls Who Code are successfully recruiting girls and breaking STEM barriers.

Stephanie rhetorically asked, “how can we become creators, not consumers?”  Some of the most heartbreaking facts of her presentation referred to media portrayal of girls as pretty exteriors, while media for boys encouraged curiosity and risk-taking.

Girls’ exposure to STEM from an early age is proven to result in educational and career choice as related interests.  Further such women raised thus retain their passion for these subjects. However, a true social cost exists for girls being the first female to walk into an all-male class or work environment. The power of STEM-positive images and repeated exposure role models and mentors (parents, teachers and peers) are critical and cannot be overestimated.

Stephanie ended her presentation by directing the audience to her book, “STEM Gems,” and strongly encouraged attendees to share the book with local teachers and work with them to develop STEM Gems groups in neighborhood schools.

Though the gender gap statistics were (and are) sobering, Stephanie left us all with hope. Abbott in Chicago is running an internship program for local high school graduates to encourage women to choose STEM careers. Victoria Schein, a Research Engineer for Ford and Angel Rich, a.k.a. The Next Steve Jobs (due to her credit app Credit Stacker that uses gamification techniques) to build credit strength for women, are some of the newest STEM role models for young girls.

One of our members shared a personal story of her struggle to find a good school/STEM training for her three special needs daughters.  Her video of the girls’ wildly happy reaction to the establishment of a local STEM Gems group brought us all to our feet and helped end the presentation on a very high note.  We left determined to do whatever is necessary to further Stephanie’s trailblazing work. Thank you, Stephanie!

Fun Fact about our speaker:  Her mother (in a stealth telephone interview with June Cline) revealed that Stephanie was a NYC fashion model for 3 years.  Stephanie quipped “I made my height work for me”.

By Denise Berry

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Be sure to join us for our next luncheon in November. Debby Stone will talk about Choosing TEA in a Coffee World: Harnessing the power of Time, Attention and Energy.  Non-members are welcome – it is a wonderful way to learn about all the benefits of ProWIN.

 

 

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