TEC-SMART Host Conference For Women in STEM

A movement to increase the number of women in science and technology has come to New York. On Oct. 25, the New York STEAM Girls Collaborative Project held its kickoff conference at TEC-SMART, Hudson Valley’s satellite campus in Malta.

New York is the 39th state in which the National Girls Collaborative has launched an initiative to bring educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and businesses together to partner in the goal of getting more girls involved in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). The state organization is called the New York STEAM Collaborative, which adds an “A” for arts to the traditional STEM acronym.

“Women are underrepresented in engineering. It is 2014 and we still have the negative stereotype of women in STEM,” said Stephanie Lemnios, NY STEAM collaborative co-leader.

Hudson Valley student Kali DeMarco participated in a panel of ten young women from around New York who excel in STEM fields. DeMarco and the other panelists were confident in their position as a minority in science-related fields.

“They may call you nerd now, but they may call you boss later,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco is completing her second year in the Clean Technologies and Sustainable Industries Early College High School program at TEC-SMART. DeMarco says she is one of only six or seven girls out of the approximately 60 people in the program.

“I did not like math or science at all. When I came here, to TEC-SMART, they gave me the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.

A theme of the panel was how doing hands-on projects and seeing real-world applications, like DeMarco experienced at TEC-SMART, sparked its participants’ interest in science.

Members of the panel ranged from sophomores in high school to seniors in college. They had all been involved in STEM-related extracurriculars or were enrolled in a STEM degree program. For example, Shaker High School students Wenny Miao and Pachi Mishra competed in a robotics competition and Guilderland High School student Nikita Naidu participates in a program at the College for Nanoscale Science Engineering.

“In 10 or 15 years they will be leading our efforts, and they are amazing,” said RPI computer science professor Francine Berman about the panel of young women. Berman was the event’s keynote speaker.

Berman spoke about the importance of getting more women involved in science and technology. “You don’t want some of the most exciting jobs in the 21st century to only be open to half the population,” she said.

A 2011 US Department of Commerce report states that only 25 percent of STEM jobs in the United States are held by women.

The conference materials included a letter from United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, which said, “Investing in today’s girls will help break down societal barriers, which will allow them to become equal leaders in our communities, our businesses, and our nation’s future, and will improve society overall.”

“The first thing that we can do personally is fix the cultures that we’re in,” said Berman. She explained that many large technology companies do not have a welcoming atmosphere for women.

The National Girls Collaborative Program was founded in 2002 as the Northwest Girls Collaborative in Oregon and Washington. It is funded by the National Science Foundation. It has since expanded across the country and reached over eight million girls.

Organizations represented at the kick-off conference included Microsoft, The Business Council of NYS, UAlbany, RPI, the New York Energy Research and Development Authority, the NYS Education Department, and numerous local school districts.

“The sky is the limit with STEM,” said DeMarco.

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