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Addressing gender equity in STEAM

Girls STEAM Ahead is a networking and mentoring event that connects 7th-12th grade female students with women studying or working in science, technology, engineering, art, or math (STEAM). Homewood Science Center's annual event, now in its third year, is an initiative of the South Suburban STEAM Network. Thanks to support from Schneider Electric, Girls STEAM Ahead is free to all participants.

This year, we’re welcoming 150 students and 92 professional women from across the Chicago Southland and Northwest Indiana to Idlewild Country Club on March 2 for an afternoon focused on STEAM education and careers.

Enbridge is treating participants to a luncheon, Gallagher Asphalt is sponsoring the technology to power the event, Grant Orthodontics and the Flossmoor Service League underwrote transportation for qualifying school districts, and the Homewood Business Association has provided thoughtful and generous raffle gifts for attendees.


Global competitiveness, national growth

Girls STEAM Ahead addresses the underrepresentation of women—particularly minority women—in STEAM education and careers. U.S. Census Bureau data show women, Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math employment and higher education (Landivar, 2013). For example, women comprise just 30 percent of the nation’s scientists and engineers; of those, only two percent are Black women, with Hispanic women making up another two percent (National Science Foundation, 2015). Underrepresentation in lucrative scientific professions limits women’s economic mobility (Pew Research Center, 2018). Gender inequity in these fields also reduces our nation’s global competitiveness and growth from innovation (National Science and Technology Council, 2018).

Girls STEAM Ahead 2019 will open with a STEAM Showcase highlighting work by women from diverse cultural, educational, and professional backgrounds, to introduce students to career choices and potential mentors. Following the showcase, students and professionals will enjoy a networking luncheon, after which Vicki Repsholdt, VP of marketing for the U.S. power division of Schneider Electric, will deliver a keynote address guided by the theme for Girls STEAM Ahead 2019, “Major Decisions.” Repsholdt will share her story, detailing vital decisions throughout her young adulthood that led to her success. Women in Schneider Electric (WiSE) will then present a hands-on engineering design challenge for the students and professionals to tackle together. Later in the afternoon, students will have a chance to pose questions to a panel of female mentor/mentee pairs. Finally, through guided discussion, students will think about how their current decisions will affect their future.


"You can be anything"

Girls STEAM Ahead gives student participants the tools they need to develop an interest in science-related disciplines and persist in attaining their academic and professional goals.

Amirah Muhammad, an aspiring pharmacist studying chemistry at Xavier University in Louisiana, says Homewood Science Center and Girls STEAM Ahead helped her step out of her comfort zone to become the leader she is today.

Amirah started volunteering at Homewood Science Center as a high school sophomore, initially helping with children’s programs to fulfill her National Honor Society requirements. She kept volunteering out of genuine love for the mission. “It started off as, ‘Hey, I need to get some hours.’ And then it was, ‘I love this,’” says Amirah. She eventually took on a role as an unpaid intern at the science center.

Girls STEAM Ahead showed Amirah “the STEM world can open up to women, specifically minority women,” she says. “I saw a lot of different women coming together, producing a very positive atmosphere and helping young women like me realize you can be anything.”

Amirah remembers meeting an entrepreneur at Girls STEAM Ahead who runs her own pharmaceutical consulting company. “I want to specialize in the management and consultant side of pharmacy, so that opened up an opportunity to get in contact with her. I was really excited about that,” Amirah says. Seeing the full spectrum of career possibilities the women professionals represented was also exciting to her.

Amirah spoke at Girls STEAM Ahead 2018 as part of a panel of interns from different institutions. Serving on the panel was nerve-wracking at first, she notes, “but in the back of my head I knew I knew my stuff. I know that I had made an impact on Homewood Science Center and I know I can be a role model to younger girls like me. It was a great experience, honestly.”

Amirah credits Girls STEAM Ahead and Homewood Science Center with helping her earn college scholarships from Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the United Negro College Fund and Xavier University. She says she’d love to see Girls STEAM Ahead expanded to provide an even better perspective on workplace opportunities.

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