Lily Tomlinson, a homeschooled teen from Chesapeake, may not have met a neuroscientist before—much less one who’s a female—but she and nearly 100 other middle school girls will have that chance on March 15. That’s when they’ll be heading to the Virginia Beach campus of Tidewater Community College for Tech Savvy, an event being powered up by the Virginia Beach branch of the American Association of University Women and the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast.
Along with looking forward to a day of fun with other girls, Lily is anxious to meet the 20+ professional women representing STEM careers—science, technology, engineering, and math—who have agreed to volunteer for the event. Some will lead girls in hands-on activities and talk to them about how they prepared for their jobs and what they love most about their work.
Lily’s mom, Jamie, is hoping this day will help Lily view STEM in a whole new way. She’s planning to get something out of the day as well when she participates in the adult workshops being offered to parents and educators that will explore ways to support girls in STEM studies and the search for scholarship money for college.
“Girls have traditionally been left out of the pipeline to technology careers,” said Tammie Rice, a former president of the AAUW Virginia Beach branch, whose daughter Marissa Rice is one of the day’s speakers.
“Research shows that girls start losing interest in math and science during middle school,” Tammie continued. “There may be many reasons, but we know that lack of interest is rooted in older stereotypes about girls doing poorly in math—or of girls’ low confidence in their abilities, again due to cultural stereotypes.
“Sometimes subtle messages can be given by families and educators that reinforce stereotypes,” Tammie noted. “That’s why we are inviting parents and educators, along with the girls, to attend this event. I really worked hard to encourage my daughter Marissa to ignore any messages that said she couldn’t dream or succeed in math or science, and I think that made a difference in her choice of career.”
Marissa, a PhD. student at Cornell University studying behavioral neuroscience, attributes most of her success to early exposure to STEM careers through programs similar to Tech Savvy. She earned her Gold Award, the highest honor presented to a Girl Scout, doing a science project on conservation, recycling, and litter reduction in 2005 that benefited the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, a popular place for Girl Scouts to give volunteer hours. Marissa continues to support Girl Scouts and finds ways to schedule volunteering in her busy schedule.
The women who will serve as role models and mentors at Tech Savvy are coming from several businesses and organizations, including the Naval Observatory, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, NASA Langley Research Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
“Women currently only make up about 25 percent of STEM jobs in the workforce, and we can do better,” Tammie said. “Girls need to see and meet women in these fields. They need to know that they can add being an engineer to their life’s bucket list!”