Middle-school girls attend inaugural STEM career exposition at RIC

Cathy Valentino was keynote speaker at the STEM in the Middle event.
Educators agree that students now need to be engaged with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) starting in middle school – a time when students, particularly girls, often shy away from the field due to gender stereotypes, and lack of awareness and perceived opportunities.

Providence’s Sophia and TIMES² academies, two schools known for their programs in STEM, sent 90 female middle-school students to participate in the STEM in the Middle Girl’s Career Expo at RIC on Dec. 2.

The event sought to increase STEM awareness and interest at the middle-school level through a full day of hands-on workshops focusing on topics such as biotechnology and DNA, forensics, mathematics, computer repair, science, electronics and multimedia.

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STEM in the Middle evolved from a worldwide initiative to interest girls in these fields, said Jo Ann Johnson, manager of youth and education programs for Tech Collective, a Rhode Island industry association for information technology and bioscience.

“As we continue to move towards a service and technology-oriented society, it is vital that we simultaneously grow our workforce to meet that demand,” added Johnson. “We need to do it at a young age.”

RIC President Nancy Carriuolo spoke during the opening remarks, listing several female pioneers in STEM, including Mary Edwards, the first female U.S. Army surgeon, and Grace Hopper, who developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. Carriuolo also discussed modern day innovators including Sangeeta Bhatia.

“Since the beginning of our history, there has always been a ‘her’ story, it just hasn’t always been told,” Carriuolo said, encouraging the middle school girls to pursue a career in the field they are passionate about.

Students participate in Cathy Valentino's presentation.
Cathy Valentino – keynote speaker at the event, who is the author-in-residence for Boston’s Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company, and the curriculum advisor for SMILE at URI (science mathematics integrated learning experiences) – gave a presentation entitled “No Pressure, No Diamonds.”

Valentino said there is no easy button when it comes to STEM, and success in the field can only come form practice and hard work. She also encouraged curiosity and excitement towards STEM, and told the students to never stop working or asking questions.

Female industry professionals and faculty offered 10 hour-long workshops in Craig-Lee and Alger halls, and the Henry Barnard School. Valentino ran a workshop on STEM education, called “So, When Am I Ever Going To Have To Use This, Anyway?” where students were taught critical STEM thinking skills through several hands-on activities.

Giselle Mahoney, manager of media relations for Tech Collective, said the importance of STEM for middle school girls is about more than just training our future workforce for careers in these fields.

“STEM learning builds intellect, problem solving skills, teamwork, and a general knowledge and understanding of the world around us,” Mahoney said. “These are qualities integral to the success of all us, no matter age, profession, or passion.”

STEM in the Middle was presented by Tech Collective, and hosted by the RI STEM Center at RIC.

For more information about the STEM in the Middle Girl’s Career Expo, contact Giselle Mahoney, manager of media relations for Tech Collective, at (401) 829-8321 or gmahoney@tech-collective.org.