Inside TSheets

How one Idaho nonprofit is nurturing girls’ interest in STEM

Joseph Patterson | February 27, 2020
From science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) come some of the most revered jobs in the world. They’re the overarching industries of doctors and programmers, of architects and astronauts. They’re also fields that have been historically dominated by men. Although the number of women in STEM is growing, statistics show unequal numbers of men to women earning STEM degrees. Just 7.9% of women first-year undergrads in 2014 intended to become STEM majors, compared to 26.9% of men. Eve Lacivita, product manager for Intuit, is working to reset the balance. And she’s doing it with the help of Idaho nonprofit Women Innovators (W.IN)“What makes W.IN unique is we are trying to connect the dots through the entire path of a woman's career,” says Eve. “From elementary school, through college, early career, mid-career—we're trying to develop programming across all of that.” For example, W.IN hosts a youth advisory board for high school girls. The board supports teens with their STEM goals while providing them with ways to give back to their communities. “We also give them some role models and mentorship to do that,” says Eve. And there are events like TechGirlz, a hands-on tech conference for junior high girls, and LevelUp, a workshop for career women. Positioned for an age group between the two is SheTech, a one-day, hands-on event geared toward high school girls in southern Idaho. But are events like SheTech enough to turn the tides and inspire more girls to pursue careers in STEM? 

Third annual SheTech triples in attendance, thanks to word of mouth

W.IN’s SheTech brings together STEM professionals, educators, and girls aged 14 to 18 from schools around Boise and beyond. Its goal is to expose girls to technology in a fun atmosphere while helping them network with STEM role models. Girls leave the event with a better idea of the variety of opportunities available to them in STEM. And, perhaps, a renewed enthusiasm for a field many of their peers find challenging or intimidating. SheTech’s third year was the biggest yet. 300 girls from 30 schools showed up at Boise State University’s student union building on January 23, 2020. Each girl had time in her schedule to attend three different workshops (out of 20 on offer), capped off by an all-hands design-think session. Workshop subjects included robotics, coding, veterinary work, water quality, VR game development, and more. Even lunchtime had a packed itinerary with a panel of STEM majors answering questions about everything from class schedules to dorm life. [caption id="attachment_30262" align="alignnone" width="1024"] SheTech 2020 saw over 300 attendees.[/caption]Eve says the event has tripled in size since its first year, fueled by a shift in how W.IN gets the word out. Initially, Eve and other volunteers had to reach out to schools and teachers about the event and convince them to come. Now, word of mouth has spread, and Eve says she receives emails from educators all over southern Idaho, hoping to attend. Best of all, the kids themselves are getting the word out. “There’s this girl,” Eve says. “She's attended three years in a row, and her first year attending, she found out about it on her own and attended on her own. Then she went back to her school and talked one of her teachers into bringing a group of seven girls the following year because she was so excited by it.” But Eve says that wasn’t enough for her. “The next year, she went back and made a commercial for her school to persuade all of her peers to come.” This year, that girl’s school sent around 30 students to SheTech. 

W.IN removes barriers for underrepresented youth

“We are trying to be very deliberate when we do outreach, to make sure we're pulling in kids and women who don't have full representation,” says Eve. “Whether it's women of color, kids who are first-generation in the United States, or English-as-a-second-language learners.” And that’s not all. Eve says W.IN is also targeting youth of economic diversity by contacting outer communities and helping them attend events like SheTech.“A lot of it is finding partnerships with groups already working to help underrepresented populations grow, get stronger, or be more represented,” she says. From there, W.IN volunteers do everything they can to remove barriers that might prevent those kids from attending events like SheTech. One such barrier is transportation. Idaho is a rural state, so some school groups must travel over 50 miles to attend. Many of those outer schools come from districts with little money. “Busing is a huge barrier,” says Eve. “But if people need help to make busing happen—if they don't have it in their budget—we'll help them get it done. Just little things like that can make a huge difference.” Looking ahead, Eve says she hopes SheTech will branch outside the capital city.  

Intuit becomes SheTech’s title sponsor, fueling the future of women in tech

It’ll be a few years before we know if events like SheTech can make a difference in the number of girls in STEM. But until then, corporate sponsors like Intuit are willing to invest in that future. Recently, Intuit became a major sponsor for SheTech. “We want to help change the narrative,” says J.D. Mullin, vice president of Intuit’s time tracking segment. “We want to make Idaho a great place to work for everyone. And W.IN is dedicated to increasing the percentage of STEM women across the board through mentorship, skill sessions, and hands-on events.” [caption id="attachment_30263" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Intuit open house celebrates women in tech.[/caption]Tracy Stone, global lead of Tech Women @ Intuit, agrees. And she believes that by putting Intuit front and center at events like SheTech can help the company’s long-term recruiting efforts. “We want Intuit to be the No. 1 choice for women technologists,” she says. “A place where women are empowered and diversity is embraced.”Intuit is one of many STEM-field companies making a concerted effort to support young women in math, science, and beyond. And the people mentoring girls at events like SheTech just might be the ones hiring them in the future. It’s a full circle of women empowering women, for a more diverse, tech-minded workforce.
A little about Joseph Patterson

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