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Planting Roots in STEM: Rocketship Girls Explore Science at eBay

It was former NASA ambassador and actress Nichelle Nichols who said, “Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game. It’s about where we are and where we’re going.” Unfortunately, while they are doing incredible work, women are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The lack of female visibility in STEM is damaging to the aspirations of our nation’s young women and girls. That’s why we’re working with community partners like Techbridge to inspire a greater understanding of STEM in the workplace and help girls envision their future in these increasingly important fields. Our goal is to develop their confidence and skills in a way that makes them keen competitors in the STEM job market.

Earlier this month, the global tech company eBay was overtaken by its potential future leaders:  a group of 21 fifth grade girls from the Rocketship Si Se Puede and Rocketship Fuerza Techbridge program. Feeling right at home upon arrival, Rocketeers received individualized guest passes and were escorted through the building to a meeting room where they gathered, eager to participate in a discussion with a handful of the company’s leading women.

Techbridge girls meet with Patricia Garcia-Rubio, Shopping Experience Product Manager during the “Get to Know a Role Model” session at eBay’s headquarters in San Jose..jpg

Students meet with Patricia Garcia-Rubio, Shopping Experience Product Manager at eBay

The room was abuzz with excitement as Rocketeers sat down at round tables with female mentors and role models from the company. It was exciting to see our Rocketeers’ eyes lighting up as they listened intently to statisticians, engineers, and product developers answer questions like, “Where did you go to college?” “Why are you working atEbay?” and “How did you decide what you wanted your career to be?”
“In fun filled events like this, elementary school girls not only get to meet women role models but also to get inspired and excited by learning what they do, and why they chose to pursue a career in STEM themselves,” said Ishita Majumdar in an article by eBay’s newsroom.

With women representing only 13% of the workforce in engineering, and 25% in computer and math, opportunities to have conversations like this are crucial for our girls to feel empowered and passionate about pursuing careers in these fields. With the recent passage of ACR 133, we are thrilled to see the California Legislature is behind us. The need for equal representation of women in STEM fields reaches beyond gender stereotypes. We need women in STEM to help close the gender pay gap, and to create products and technologies that consider the needs of girls and women across the globe (after all, we are half of the general population).

Creating opportunities for girls to foster their interest in STEM while they are young builds confidence in their skills, but the key is helping them realize the connection between their interest in STEM and its application in the real world job market. Despite living in Silicon Valley, the socioeconomic divide keeps our students from being exposed to women working in these fields. It is up to us to show them what is possible so they can dream it for themselves. The Techbridge program has been an amazing way to do this for our girls at Rocketship.

Laura Bermudez, Director of Social Engineers at eBay, talks about her career and life with girls from Rocketship Si Se Puede and Rocketship Fuerza Community Prep at eBay's headquarters in San Jose.

Laura Bermudez, Director of Social Engineers at eBay talks about her career and life with the girls

Along with two yearly field trips to introduce Rocketeers to women role-models in STEM (the next one being to Salesforce), the group meets every Tuesday afternoon for two and a half hours for a STEM-intensive project that has a real world application. Each week, the girls are introduced to a new project (or continue work on the week’s prior), a demonstration is shown, and the girls create their projects and present them to their peers at the end.
Recently, the Techbridge girls were captivated by the gum drop tower project. Working on teams, the girls built a tower from toothpicks and gumdrop candies and measured to see how much weight the tower could hold without breaking. After finishing the project, they discussed the results of each tower to determine the sturdiest shape and hypothesized that the strongest towers were built from triangles. They proved their hypothesis by rebuilding their towers and retesting their work. It was fun to watch the girls’ excitement rise as they made new discoveries about the engineering of their towers.
Observing the girls in the Techbridge program, I’ve noticed an increase in leadership in the classroom and a newfound sense of empowerment. The girls who participate in the program have become more invested in their schoolwork; they get their homework done and do well on tests and projects, so they can set an example for other students and ensure their attendance at the Techbridge program and field trips.
While we’re so proud of our partnership with Techbridge, the Rocketship model is deeply infused with an emphasis on STEM. We incorporate science on a weekly basis in our STEM classes and take it a step further by encouraging parents to take an interest in STEM too! Each science unit concludes with a science night in which scholars present their STEM lesson to their families in fun presentation nights. This creates an atmosphere of support that motivates our girls to break the status quo to become the powerful innovators we know they can be.
Visibility, access, and mentorship are crucial for giving girls the support they need to feel empowered pursuing their dreams in STEM, and the impact is exponential. Leveling the playing field through our work with Techbridge and in every Rocketship classroom, I believe we are creating a better future not just for our Rocketeers, but for women and girls across the globe. Imagine your scholar one day developing a technology that improves the life of a girl in another part of the world. At Rocketship, she’s on track to do just that.
Do you have a girl who has a passion for STEM? Tell us about her! ➟ @RocketshipEd

Published on April 18, 2016