In honor of Women’s History Month, a three-part series looks to the past, present and future of women in STEM. Today, AAAS celebrates the next generation of women in science.
AAAS is home to a host of programs that ignite and fan the spark of scientific curiosity in children of all ages. Its STEM Volunteer Program brings working and retired scientists and engineers into local classrooms to help children connect their studies to real-world professions. Family Science Days, a public event held at AAAS Annual Meetings, offers a chance for children and their families to learn about science by taking part in hands-on activities and talking with scientists. Science in the Summer provides free summer programming where second- through sixth-graders can get excited about science and build scientific literacy for the long term. The AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books recognize the best books about science for children of all ages.
To specifically reach middle-school girls to inspire them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, AAAS teamed with Lyda Hill Philanthropies in 2019 to launch the AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors program to demonstrate that if you support women in STEM, then they can change the world.
That year, 125 women who use their STEM education in fields ranging from business to academia to sports were selected to serve as high-profile role models to girls. Since then, the ambassadors have connected with girls in person and on screen to highlight real-world applications of STEM skills and change the perception of who is a scientist.
Ambassadors have appeared in original content that showcases women in STEM, including episodes of CBS show “Mission Unstoppable.” Photos and videos of the ambassadors have been collected in a digital asset library so that nonprofits and educational institutions have access to images of diverse women in STEM. Ambassadors have even been immortalized in 3D-printed statues. When #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit opens this year in Dallas, the collection of 122 statues will be the largest group of statues women ever assembled in one location at once.
Ambassadors have also connected with girls directly in a range of creative ways. In addition to traditional mentoring sessions, they have also taken part in a reverse-mentoring project. To celebrate National STEAM Day in 2020, some ambassadors met virtually with middle- and high-school girls to learn from them how best to use TikTok to share their scientific interests through short videos.
Many of these activities have been enabled by a grant program from Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Ambassador Beata Edyta Mierzwa, for instance, is creating a video game in which the player will travel through a cell and solve puzzles based on real-life science. The AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador program has “completely transformed the way I think about my research, science education and possibilities for the future,” Mierzwa told AAAS’ Elana Kimbrell in 2020.
The future scientists that the ambassadors aim to inspire agree with the importance of the program. Said Alisha, a high-school senior who served as a social media mentor to a AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador, “I really believe that enabling girls to pursue STEM will make a difference in the world and help solve the challenges we face as a society.”