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AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors to Connect STEM Women Role Models with Middle School Girls

Launched on March 4, IF/THEN aims to inspire young girls’ interest in STEM fields by highlighting real-world STEM applications and their importance in our daily lives. | Courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has launched a program to give women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers the opportunity to share their stories and serve as high-profile role models for middle school girls.

Participants in the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors program will connect with students in person and through various media outlets, including popular YouTube channels and TV shows. The program is open to U.S.-based women who represent a diversity of STEM professions, from academic and private-sector researchers to sports data scientists, set-design engineers and video game developers. The application process opens April 1.

“AAAS has a long history of supporting scientists to engage public audiences, and students in particular,” said Emily Therese Cloyd, director of the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. “We’re excited to be furthering this work through the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors program, which will highlight the wide variety of careers available in STEM.”

The Ambassadors program is part of IF/THEN, an initiative of Lyda Hill Philanthropies that brings together a broad coalition of science, education and entertainment organizations to empower current STEM innovators and inspire the next generation of pioneers. The project draws its name from a conditional sentence: “If we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.”

Launched on March 4, IF/THEN aims to inspire young girls’ interest in STEM fields by highlighting real-world STEM applications and their importance in our daily lives. In addition to AAAS, the dozens of coalition members include partners like Girl Scouts of the USA, National Geographic, Teach for America, U.S. Soccer and the World Wildlife Fund.

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Girls' interest in STEM careers increases when they have fictional or non-fictional STEM role models. | Courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies

“Our organization has always believed science is the answer to many of life’s problems,” said Lyda Hill, founder of Dallas-based Lyda Hill Philanthropies, an organization committed to funding transformational advances in science and nature. “Now more than ever, it’s important to showcase the women in STEM who are helping make our world a better place.”

Ambassadors will participate in a multi-day summit to learn from each other and receive coaching from specialists in science communication, STEM education, and diversity and inclusion. At the summit, Ambassadors will be given tools to more powerfully tell their personal stories with news and entertainment media and partnerships with GoldieBlox, a popular YouTube channel, and cable and network TV stations.

The Ambassadors program addresses the critical need for more women STEM professionals as well as better portrayals of women scientists in media and popular culture. Having a fictional or non-fictional STEM role model increases the proportion of girls interested in getting a job in the sector to 52% from 32%, according to a 2018 Microsoft survey. A 2018 research report by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, however, found that just 37% of STEM professionals portrayed in media are women.

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AAAS Board Chair Margaret Hamburg speaks at the March 4 IF/THEN launch event at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. | Courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies

In classrooms around the country and in informal education settings, such as AAAS Family Science Days and Girls Scouts events, Ambassadors will be able to connect with middle-school girls in person. Additionally, to ensure that Ambassadors’ stories continue to inspire after the program ends, IF/THEN will create a digital asset library – in partnership with National Girls Collaborative Project – that will be distributed to science museums, zoos, aquariums, schools and other student-facing institutions.

The first round of Ambassadors will be selected from applications submitted by May 15 and announced in early July. Applications for the second group will close on July 21, with Ambassadors announced in early September. In all, the program will select 100 AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors, ranging from early-career to established STEM professionals.

“Together with our coalition members, we believe that having diverse opinions around the table is key to building a more innovative future,” said Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies and co-founder of IF/THEN. “We want to shift our culture to encourage future generations of world-changers.”