Magazine article Techniques

Igniting Women's Passion for Careers in STEM

Magazine article Techniques

Igniting Women's Passion for Careers in STEM

Article excerpt

Sixty high school girls sit in a classroom, eating pizza, as educator Cathi Rodgveller addresses the crowd.

"How many of you girls know a woman in a science or technology career?"


Even in a technology-rich city like Seattle, only one or two hands typically go up in response to this question. A second cousin at Boeing, or a former neighbor at Microsoft. The vast majority of these girls have no female role models to encourage them to pursue science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) careers. Their decisions are often driven by the all-too-skewed portrayals on television and in movies.

Rodgveller saw this problem more than 10 years ago, and her attempt to pique girls' interest in nontraclitional careers in the Seattle School District led to the creation of the now-international nonprofit IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Education). From its humble beginnings, IGNITE has impacted the lives of more than 20,000 girls, with thousands more across the globe each year.

In the Seattle School District, the majority of IGNITE's funding comes from its ever-shrinking Perkins grant allocation. IGNITE's appearance in the district made a significant impact; in schools where the program was rolled out, female enrollment in STEM classes jumped from 10 percent to 50 percent. But what is the secret to such success on a tight budget?

The IGNITE Curriculum

The beauty of the IGNITE program is its simplicity. At the heart of the program a thriving partnership with professional women (and sometimes men) working in STEM careers, who volunteer their time in order to reach out to Young women about the opportunities in front of them. Every IGNITE academic year begins with in-school presentations, during which a small panel of these professionals visit to tell their stories and engage in discussion with the girls in attendance.

For IGNITE members, this marks the beginning of a year filled with workshops, field trips, job shadows, mentorships, additional presentations, and the support and eneouragement of peers and educators. But no matter what the year brings, it's this personal connection with real female role models that inspires the girls to consider options they hadn't seen before. Yet unlike some school presentations or career days, IGNITE exists year-round, creating a peer group for these girls that encourages them and increases the likelihood that the original outreach will take root.

Educators involved with the program have seen the inspiring results firsthand. Jacqueline Graupner, a counselor ai Ingraham High School, recounts her first IGNITE field trip:

"Feeling safe and encouraged, the girls expressed such an amazing level of interest in technology that the interaction between the adults and students was electric. The buzz continued on the bus ride back and repeats whenever IGNITE or related topics are brought up ... I don't know of any other program that is as dedicated to giving individualized guidance and inspiration to female high school students interested in technology. We are really very lucky here in Seattle."

Many organizations offer workshops and hands-on training for girls in this age group. IGNITE increasingly collaborates with these organizations to give the girls easy access to exploratory opportunities once their curiosity is piqued, while providing the benefits of the peer groups IGNITE fosters among students. While the school district and grant money cover the cost of buses and substitute teachers, private donations from the community help IGNITE to go the extra mile, providing pizza at events, scholarships to promising students, and the like.

Expanding Focus

IGNITE's success isn't limited to the Seattle area. Over time, interest from others grew, and Rodgveller developed the IGNITE curriculum and a chapter model enabling other schools to implement the program and benefit from the best practices developed in the Seattle School District. …

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