Imagine a curious preschool-aged girl being told not to dig in dirt so her dress will stay clean. Her older sister, working on an experiment, is told to hand off a power tool to a boy instead.

As a girl grows up from a curious preschooler into an inquisitive teenager, she’ll receive subtle—and not-so-subtle—messages that can discourage her from sticking with her math and science studies or pursuing a career in technology and engineering.

Similar vignettes play out every day in the lives of girls and other minority groups who are underrepresented in the high-paying, high-potential industries of science, technology, engineering and math—otherwise known as STEM, according to Alana Kulesa, director of strategic initiatives at the Carnegie Science Center.

“That’s exactly the opposite of what we’re trying to do,” Kulesa says. “We’re trying to give explicit direction to help guide young women and everybody who has an interest in math and science.”

Girls learn science, technology, engineering, art and math skills at the STEM camp at the Carnegie Science Center. Photo by Brian Cohen.

Girls learn science, technology, engineering and math at the STEM camp at the Carnegie Science Center. Photo by Brian Cohen.

STEM education is a national priority, but it’s especially relevant in the Pittsburgh region, Kulesa notes. Local leaders are counting on industries like biotechnology, information technology, robotics, advanced materials processes, environmental technology and nanotechnology to keep the region sustainable, both environmentally and economically.

Since 2011, the Chevron Center for STEM Education and Career Developmenthas worked with students, teachers and the Pittsburgh community to increase success and achievement in schools. Located in the Carnegie Science Center, Chevron’s STEM efforts work to inspire students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with experiences in science and technology, explains Susan Zimecki, director of marketing at Carnegie Science Center.

By getting children excited about science and technology, Zimecki says the center’s programming will help develop the next generation’s STEM workforce.

“We know there’s a growing, burgeoning need nationally and locally for these skills,” she says, adding that the center also endeavors to bring STEM education to the general population. “And, whether or not they pursue STEM careers, they need to be literate in science, if not fluent, so they can make good decisions in their everyday lives.”

The programming created by the Chevron STEM center focuses on informal science education, intended to complement lessons learned in school. A 2009 study by the National Research Council confirms that students can grasp concepts faster and more easily when they are exposed to informal science education.

And no matter what grade level or school district, the Chevron STEM Center has something for everyone.

Tour Your Future

Through the Tour Your Future mentorship program, students visit businesses such as FedEx to better understand career possibilities in STEM fields. Girls ages 11 to 17 can meet female professionals who introduce them to diverse professions—from avian zoologists to accountants, software engineers to surgeons—in their workplace.

SciTech Days

This two-to three-day science fair for students in fifth through 12th grade happens twice a year in March and November. The hands-on event connects students with leading scientists and technologists through cutting-edge workshops that focus on bioengineering, robotics, 3D printing and design, and DNA & CSI.

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About The Author

Contributing Writer

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Melanie is a free-lance copywriter and journalist whose work has appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Venus Zine and Maniac Magazine.

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