April 25, 2008

Kentucky girls of all ages will receive support and encouragement to pursue careers in science and math related fields through the recently formed Kentucky Girls Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Collaborative. The state’s collaborative is a part of the National Girls Collaborative Project, based in Seattle, Wash.

The University of Kentucky is the project’s lead organization. Sue Scheff, coordinator and adviser for UK’s Appalachian and Minority Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Majors (AMSTEMM) chairs the collaborative, and Carol Hanley, director of communications and education for UK’s Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment, is the vice chair.

According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, Kentucky ranks near the bottom for women’s employment and earnings when compared to other states. With only 16 percent of Kentucky women having a bachelor’s degree, the state is far below the national average of 23 percent.

“Historically speaking, Kentucky has not done well in preparing its girls to be in the workforce,” Scheff said.

Hanley said statistics show girls often lose interest in STEM related fields at an early age. She said one of the reasons girls are not attracted to careers in these fields is because they do not feel a social connection. Many times, women who work in these fields do not have female co-workers to collaborate with or look to as role models.

“We need to change instruction so it is exciting and has a connection to the community,” she said. “We need to find girls mentors and role models so they can see themselves as scientists.”

By getting girls interested and involved in STEM related fields at an early age, the collaborative will work to improve their futures and the state’s rankings.

While the collaborative is just taking off, it is something Scheff, who has three daughters, has worked toward for some time.

“My interest in my own daughters’ futures and my work over the last 20 years is what really got me involved in this project, she said. “It has become much more than just a job; it’s a passion.”

Professionals from industries, organizations and many of the state’s colleges and universities make up the project’s leadership team. While all leadership team members are not in STEM related fields, they all have a desire to see girls advance in these fields.

The collaborative plans to host forums for the public across the state to raise awareness about the project and help individuals and organizations form partnerships to increase the opportunities available to girls in STEM related fields and organizations in their communities. These partnerships will be eligible to apply for mini grants offered by the collaborative. Grant opportunities and criteria will be announced during a kickoff conference May 23 at UK. In addition to the announcement, individuals across the state will showcase their programs and best practices. The leadership team also plans to have an annual conference later this year.

For more information on the May 23rd kickoff conference, contact Carol Hanley at 859-333-8248 or at chanley@uky.edu or Sue Scheff at 859-257-2613 or at suescheff@uky.edu.

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