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November 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Building steam under science, technology, engineering, math and the arts

The dearth of women in technology professions or girls taking STEM classes has been well-documented. But I found reason for hope recently during an afternoon with young girls studying STEAM, the acronym for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics education, during full-day workshops on six consecutive Saturdays.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

Robotic vehicles designed by girls in the BUILDING STEAM program by the Greater Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc.

The girls were recruited from Seattle-area middle and high schools and community organizations by the Greater
Seattle Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women. At the TAF Academy, the Federal Way public school run by the Technology Access Foundation, the girls engaged in hands-on learning about robotics and gaming technology using NASA STEM education guidelines developed for the U.S. Department of Education. I met the girls on their final day when they had gathered at Rainier Beach Community Center to model their robots – including some talking ones – and debut video games they designed.

The games had stunning graphics and creative twists. I was especially wowed by those inspired by Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Who says girls are not gamers!

Also, who says STEM should not include arts. The aesthetic of the games, their design and usability, was all about artistic values. The afternoon was a celebration of the girls’ accomplishments but for me it was also a glimpse at the promise of STEAM, rather than STEM, education.

President Obama has emphasized STEM education as necessary preparation for a global and tech-driven economy. I’ve written here and here about the sizeable gap between the number of tech jobs available and the number of job seekers with the training and education to fill those jobs.  The inbalance is greater for young people of color. National efforts draw attention to the dilemma, but it is dogged work at the local level, by advocacy and commnity groups like The Links, that moves the needle.

National organizations like Black Girls Code and other local groups provide an extraordinary and powerful effort connecting young girls with tech skills. The Seattle girls visited Boeing and had chances to see the many career opportunities fueled by STEAM educations.  And the Links, who count among their members many engineers, lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs, offer real-life success models for young girls stepping into a global, tech-driven world. This is important progress.

Building STEAM program's 2013 class.

Building STEAM program’s 2013 class. (Photo: Flyright Productions, LLC.)

Comments | Topics: children, Education, race


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