New Center Seeks Out Best Practices for Getting Women of Color into STEM

Three quarters of middle school girls show strong interest in science and math, yet only a tenth will go on to continue their studies in college. The result is that they're prevented from obtaining STEM jobs and excluded from the field as well as the high pay those careers promise. To address the challenge of getting girls and women of color, specifically, interested in science, technology, engineering and math will be the focus of a new center at Arizona State University. Kimberly Scott, an associate professor in the Women and Gender Studies Department, is heading up the institution's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology. The mission will be to "establish best practices for culturally responsive programs for girls of color."

One pipeline for those best practices is CompuGirls, an Arizona State-hosted program that teaches girls advanced technological skills, founded by Scott in 2007. As profiled in a case study on the National Center for Women & IT site, CompuGirls works with girls in grades 8-12 to pick a social justice problem relevant to their own communities and guides them through conducting research and creating technology solutions to address the issue. The girls work together and are helped by mentor-teachers. They "graduate" after completing 195 hours in the program, going through three courses that teach digital storytelling, programming of video games and programming of virtual worlds.

The lack of women and minorities in STEM isn't just an economic problem, Scott said, but also a social justice one. She believes that the research and tools provided by the center can help policymakers make decisions that will support women of color in their pursuit of STEM opportunities.

"Empowering women of color to enter STEM fields will help us address issues of both gender and racial equity," she added. "Creating an environment where young girls succeed in science and math will help open many doors for their success."

The center will house CompuGirls as well as the National STEM Collaborative, a group of 12 universities and 15 non-profit organizations, led by Arizona State, focused on scaling research-based activities related to access, completion and workforce development for women of color in STEM. In the coming year the center will also co-host an annual women of color and STEM entrepreneurship conference as well as an event for tribal college and Native American women in STEM.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.