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Fostering Conversations in STEM

Amidst the buzz and chaos of students rushing around the UC Berkeley campus, a couple of times a year, a group of young women are introduced to a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) future that could be theirs with the help of Self-eSTEM.

And on March 16, 2019, dozens of young girls and women came together to listen to professionals in the STEM industry share their experiences and influence young women to consider education and career paths in STEM during Conversations in STEM event on the UC Berkeley campus, held in Sutardja Dai Hall with support from ITS Berkeley, Women in Tech Initiative UC, Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), Low Income/first Generation Students (LIFGen), College of Environmental Design Students of Color (CEDSOC), and the University of California Transportation Center (UCTC). (See Twitter coverage of the event)

Dozens of young women and their parents listen to STEM professionals share experiences during Conversations in STEM on the UC Berkeley campus“We see a lot of untapped potential in the communities we serve, and our goal is to provide resources, tools and examples to fill the current critical shortage of minority young women in STEM professions,” says Self-eSTEM Director of Strategic Corporate Development Gervetti Lockett.

Girls ages 7-17 from Self-eSTEM (an Oakland based nonprofit) heard two panels of women STEM professionals from around the Bay Area. The panel discussion Navigating STEM Career Pathways, included topics such as how panelists have overcome school/workplace challenges, building relationships with teachers and mentors, and their personal experiences succeeding in STEM fields. Panelists for the STEM Ecosystem of Support, shared some of their efforts and accomplishments to inspire a more diverse and inclusive STEM workforce pipeline to help reinforce a growth mindset - the belief that intelligence can be developed - and build resilience to remain in the STEM fields and provide practical tips and best practices on methods to help more women and minorities begin or navigate their STEM careers.

Self-eSTEM Program Operation Lead Jeremiah Tolbert snaps a pic with his daughter at the Conversations in STEM event.A big component of Self-eSTEM is creating connections to women, professionals, scientists and professors who are currently doing STEM work to talk with students and show them possibilities. Planning professor and UCTC Director Karen Trapenberg Frick has been doing that at UC Berkeley, since she gave a talk two years ago at a Self-eSTEM event.

“After I became aware of this group and their important mission, I realized I work with so many potential role models from students to faculty, I wanted to help foster those connections,” says Trapenberg Frick.

Since then, she has been bringing in her colleagues, access to resources, and graduate students to be a part of these events, like the STEM Exploration Camp, Bonding Over Brunch and Conversations in STEM. ITS affiliate and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Joan Walker was thrilled to participate in last year’s Conversations in STEM.

“It was fantastic to be a part of this, it was a really impressive organization and the girls were so impressive — so young and so engaged,” says Walker. “Also it was neat that both the kids and their parents participated. The panel that the organizers brought together was amazing — such accomplished women and their stories about their career path.”

CED and ITS Berkeley graduate students, representing LIFGen and CEDSOC, volunteer their time and expertise, including Kamene Dornubari-Ogidi, Jessie Wesley, Letitia Carpenter, Christa Cassidy, Gabriela Picado, Dorry Funaki, Elena Eimert, Stella Yip, as well as Tara Montgomery in Social Welfare. CED and ITS Berkeley graduate students, representing LIFGen and CEDSOC, have also been volunteering their time and expertise to these young women, including Kamene Dornubari-Ogidi, Jessie Wesley, Letitia Carpenter, Christa Cassidy, Gabriela Picado, Dorry Funaki, Elena Eimert, Stella Yip, as well as Tara Montgomery in Social Welfare. Funaki, a Masters in City Planning student, said she wishes she had seen more women and women of color in STEM positions while growing up.

 “I don’t think there are enough spaces that empower and nurture young girls of color, and I think Self-eSTEM offers opportunities for young girls to see STEM fields as a place where they are needed, wanted and where they have the support network to thrive professionally,” Funaki noted. “Being around these young girls, has taught me how much young girls and young girls of color need support networks that resemble them."

Bonding Over Brunch packed the classroom in January, 2019as Self-eSTEM came to ehe UC Berkeley campus.In addition to volunteering with Conversations in STEM, the graduate students also helped out at the recent Bonding Over Brunch event hosted at the College of Environmental Design on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019 where 60 girls attended and had an amazing time building and creating STEM affirmations for 2019 with role models.

“We want them to know that there is science in that color of lip gloss they love so much and technology and engineering behind the music they listen and dance to,” says Lockett. “We want to see what sparks their interest in STEM and let them know what kind of careers are out there for them.”

The girls also spend a week in the summer camp to further explore STEM opportunities through talks, projects that complement those talks, like building a bridge, and enjoy the college campus experience. They have taken tours at locales rich in STEM and diverse as the Ed Roberts Campus at the Ashby BART station to explore technology, universal design and accessibility for persons with disabilities and NASA Ames to research and tech companies in Richmond, Pinole, San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

“I get to learn things I probably wouldn’t in the classroom and talk to other girls interested in science,” says Lexi House, who at nine years old enjoys coding and creating bitmojis for mentors in the Self-eSTEM program.

Gervetti also noted having access to and being comfortable at a university increases their likelihood of applying for college and having a higher level of education helps people make better choices in the future, including food and health decisions, as well as see higher incomes.

Trapenberg Frick also was pleased to see Self e-STEM colleagues at a Lego competition hosted by ITS Berkeley on campus in January. While the team had not made it to the final competition, they came to check out what the top teams look like and make goals.