November 29, 2012
One Thing Leads to Another
An Essay Replacing Photo Captions
Athena Collaborative Group, a New York-based 501c3, helps produce people like Grace Belancik.
Question is, who is Grace Belancik? Grace and I went to school together at Agnes Scott College, a small liberal arts institution for women. We were also members of the Newman Club. Now, I was equally involved and just as active a participant in The Rose & Shield, a joint student group for Lutherans (rose) and Episcopalians (shield), which made my grandmother refer to me as a “religious freelancer,” but I digress…
Grace is an astronaut. OK, I embellish. Technically she is an Aerospace Engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama. She holds a degree in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech, where she was a research assistant for a year before being offered full time employment at NASA. Grace ended up transferring from Agnes Scott when her big ambitions outgrew its science programs. At 23, she’s doing alright for herself. Which is to say, she’s doing awesome and *is* pretty awesome.
In the third photo above Grace is entertaining/inspiring 5th and 6th grade girls in an all-day workshop called Engineering a Future. It is a recruiting event for the field of engineering.
Although there are slightly more women in US colleges and universities than men, only about 20% of declared engineering majors are women.
An even tinier percentage are computer science majors, like the brilliant Marissa Mayer. Sorry, New York developers, your chances of finding a unicorn of the opposite sex are not in your favor.
Hope is A Four-Letter Word
Athena Collaborative Group, however, an organization I was introduced to through the volunteer matching service Catchafire, works to prepare women and girls for careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
The first two photos, directly above Grace Belancik, are from Athena Collaborative’s programs, which engages young girls in math and science. Its mission is to provide women with equal opportunities and the ability to choose from a wider range of challenging, rewarding, technical and highly-skilled (read: paying) careers.
The pre-adolescent and adolescent stages are critical, as it is when girls first begin to lose interest in math and science. As that disinterest settles, the division between young men and women pursuing sciences grows more and more dramatic and pronounced.
Unlike Grace, I didn’t grow up with the inclination to study math and science, or engineering. Instead, I gravitated towards other disciplines.
It would be wonderful if there were more Grace Belanciks and Marissa Mayers in the world! But what I desire, and what I wish upon the world is even simpler…
I wish more girls were good at math. That they didn’t shy away from participating in algebra class. That they didn’t tell themselves, “I can’t do this! This is beyond me!”
No, what I wish for the world is exactly the opposite. That no little girl (or little boy) thinks to themselves – ever – “I can’t do this.” Because they can. I believe that they can. I have seen it.
Grace is living proof.
So am I, to a lesser degree, and I have seen it in myself. I used to run from word problems and science equations like they were the devil! That was when I was a teenager. In college I had the privilege of learning from patient and caring professors who taught me to overcome my nonsensical fears and ultimately, to believe in myself. To do things like not cheat on my homework because I actually did the exercises correctly. To score high enough on exams to maintain a decent GPA and remain on The Dean’s List. To major in economics, of all possible degrees – even made up ones at crunchy, liberal arts colleges. It wasn’t too math heavy, but certainly involved a fair amount of comfort and familiarity with problem solving, graph-drawing and depending on trusty equations.
My favorite answer in economics class was “indeterminate,” meaning you have no way of knowing, provided the given information. It was a fabulous answer, showing me that sometimes it’s more than OK to say, “I don’t know.”
Discovering I could handle econ and that math was not beyond me had some positive, lasting effects on my life. When I moved to New York, I wasn’t afraid to do something like learn basic HTML code, thanks to a little help from my friends.
Our Children and Our Children’s Children
I want a world where there are little girls who don’t just dream of purses to buy or shoes to wear (though I do love and appreciate them both!).
I want a world where girls imagine making great things – innovative, phenomenal contributions to society, things that are really cool and urgently needed.
A world where anyone, regardless of gender, can do alright for themselves and lead fulfilling, independent lives.
I believe that supporting women in STEM makes this world possible. This holiday season I’m teaching to raise money for Athena Collaborative Group and the admirable work they’re doing.
You should join me. For your daughters, as well as your sons.