Katie Baldwin: The Importance of Women in Math and Science

Welcoming the first guest writer of this blog, Katie Baldwin! She’s another student at UW-Madison, and has a lot of good things to say about women in the math and science fields after volunteering at an event for middle school girls. Read on for more:

Last Saturday I chose to spend my day volunteering at an on-campus event called “Expanding Your Horizons.” The event is dedicated to 6-8th grade girls who are interested in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).  I was absolutely blown away by the time, work, and passion that went into the event.

EYH has been focused on the future careers of young girls since 1981 and the event ran like a perfectly engineered machine (see what I did there?) Another student volunteer and I were put in charge of 12 girls; we led them around campus all day to different stations run by actual women with actual professions in STEM careers.  To say I was impressed by my group of little ladies would be an egregious understatement.  They actively questioned the presenters about their work, showing curiosity in everything from prosthetic human hands, trigonometry, bacterial contaminations, and, of course, the possibility of taking the lab rats home as pets.  A 12 year old girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pink backpack told me that her daddy wants her to be a lawyer, but she is going to be a mathematician instead because she feels happy when she solves math problems.

During the day, I led the girls through 3 stations where they learned about applied mathematics, physical science, and health and medicine.  The presenters were three graduate students at UW-Madison and one professional risk analyst.  One of the goals of the event was to show girls that women in STEM careers are just like every other woman.  The presenters emphasized these points by going through powerpoints about their own lives; they told us about their hobbies, their husbands, their friends, their families, their dreams, experiences, and favorite desserts.  It was incredibly refreshing to see a picture of a beautiful woman on her wedding day next to a picture of the same woman taking field samples of volcanic rock.  When one of the presenters told us that she and her husband co-founded their own computer programming company 20 years ago, I was struck by the fact that I was in the presence of someone who truly laid the groundwork for women like me.

 While the event was meant to get middle school girls thinking about their future, I walked away on Saturday afternoon feeling like I was the one who was truly the beneficiary.  I am a firm believer in the power of women; my own mother is the first person in her family with a college diploma to her name.  I am a firm believer in the role of women in the future of science, technology, engineering and mathematics; I will follow in my mother’s footsteps as the first person in my family to earn a degree in a STEM profession.  I was fortunate enough to be raised in a home where education was prized.  Although my parents couldn’t help me with my homework after my math problems had more letters than numbers (business majors, ugh), they have never stopped supporting me.

I want to make sure that the next generation of women feels supported in their ambitions, whether or not it is a STEM career.  One of the girls in my group asked me simply, “so is it really hard?” The answer is yes, it is hard.  College is hard.  Science is hard.  Math is hard.  Sometimes being the only girl in your physics class is hard.  However, at the end of the day, the reward of being a part of a group of women like the women I met at EYH is worth the difficulty.  EYH is an initiative that I hope continues for years to come, I recommend it for girls of any age, from 10-100.

Learn more about EYH by visiting their website:

http://www.expandingyourhorizons.org/

Or by looking at the Madison chapter:

http://www.eyh.wisc.edu/

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