STEM Spotlight: Mary J. Blige, NASA Pair Up to Get Girls Into Science

This is a bit dated, but still rather newsworthy. I had NO CLUE that Mary J. Blige is a STEM education supporter!!!!



Mary J. Blige is partnering with NASA to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). NASA released two public service announcements featuring Blige and space shuttle astronaut Leland Melvin this week on NASA TV online. In addition, Blige, who cofounded the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now in 2008, has made several television appearances in the last week to talk about the program.

The goal of the collaboration is to garner attention for NASA’s Summer of Innovation, a multiweek, intensive STEM program for middle school teachers and students during summer 2010. Coordinators hope the program, which is in support of President Barack Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, will counter the “summer slide” (loss of academic skills over the summer) and other issues facing students who are underrepresented, underserved, and underperforming in STEM. SOI programs will take place in several states including Idaho, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Wyoming, and students will learn about and develop projects involving wind turbines, weather stations, engineering in suborbital space, robotics, astrophysics, and space exploration.

For STEM Spotlight this week, spoke with Marian Johnson-Thompson, professor emerita at the University of the District of Columbia and an adjunct professor in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She talked about five things parents can do to encourage their girls to pursue an interest in science.

Expose them to female role models. Find other women in science who can tell your daughters what they did in science when they were young girls, says Johnson-Thompson, the former director of education and biomedical research at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Use role models who can demonstrate that you can be attractive, wear nice clothes, have children, and get married–all while being successful in science. “That may sound a little bit sexist, but it turns out this is what little girls think about early on, and even the young girls I meet today in high school [think you can’t be involved in science and still be feminine],” she says. “If you can expose them to role models who have these characteristics, it is positive reinforcement for them.”

Relate science to activities that girls, in particular, will understand. Tell your daughters about the chemistry involved in cosmetology or the scientific processes involved in cooking, says Johnson-Thompson. There is an entire discipline of science devoted to food science. Show them that bread is made from yeast rising, that pickles are made as a result of the fermentation process, and explain to them the role of microorganisms in yogurt and cheeses. “Explain science so that children can see how it is used in their everyday experiences. Then it will help them to be more engaged,” she says.

Build their math skills early. “Make sure they have a good foundation in math because math is fundamental to science,” says Johnson-Thompson. “If you have a good background in math, science will come easy.”

Expose them early to hands-on STEM projects. Use the summer time as an opportunity to find programs that will give your daughter first-hand STEM experiences. Delta Sigma Theta sorority has a project called Delta SEE, Science and Everyday Experiences, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and supported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “It is a good example of how you can get children more interested in science by letting them see how science is so much a part of everything that they do.” Also search for science camps that are just for young girls. For example, the Girl Scouts have instituted a program where girls get patches for science activities, says Johnson-Thompson.

Establish a supportive environment and don’t reinforce negative thoughts about science. Try to negate the myths about science that are so pervasive, even among parents, says Johnson-Thompson. “Stop saying things like ‘Science is hard,’ ‘People who do science are strange,’ ‘Scientists don’t know how to communicate.’ If parents don’t feel comfortable with science because they don’t feel like they have enough of a knowledge base, expose them to friends, neighbors, or even doctors and dentists who can speak encouragingly to the child about science.” Participate in science programs with your child. The DeltaSee programs are designed for grade school kids and their families, says Johnson-Thompson, who chaired the advisory committee for the program. “Delta members in Durham North Carolina have taken the program to churches and schools, and host a one-day science camp every summer,” she says.

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Based in Central Florida, STEMchicks, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization that engages girls by providing a STEM-based education designed specifically for them — empowering them to succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math. Current and tentative services include:

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