When looking at the attributes and traits of top STEM workers there are the obvious ones like math and mechanical skills. Then there are the not so obvious traits like applied creativity, the desire and ability to figure things out and problem solve; and lastly, there are interpersonal and leadership skills. These last two are critical because they foster the ability to build teams and run projects. Every element of these traits and a dash of passion are what brought High-Tech High Heels to life over a decade ago.
The Vision & the Seed Money
In 2001, Melendy Lovett was a Senior VP at Texas Instruments (TI) and President of their Education Technology division . . . she was also on the Dallas Women’s
Foundation Board of Directors. (Today Lovett works for Trinity Industries.) Lovett walked into the office of VP of Workforce & Diversity, Tegwin Pulley, and said, “We should start a donor-advised fund.” What Lovett envisioned was creating an organization to close the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math for young women in Dallas.
Funding for High-Tech High Heels (HTHH) began by asking the women leaders of TI for contributions of $5,000 each to start the fund. They raised $150,000. To boost the fund, a piece of the annual contribution to the Dallas Women’s Foundation from TI was committed to HTHH, and then the TI Foundation became interested because the goals of HTHH were well aligned with the TI Foundation’s mission – they, too, contributed.
Wanda Gass was a TI engineer in 2003 and is now the Executive Director of HTHH. “The initial group was galvanized by the idea – we felt there were some barriers for girls and we could help the STEM pipeline.” Gass and others knew the STEM pipeline led all the way from fourth grade through college and they wanted to see things become more equitable for girls.
There was a practical side to HTHC, too. As a VP in HR, Pulley knew firsthand what the hiring numbers were and TI needed to recruit more women engineers.
The Students & AP Physics Summer Camp
The HTHH program works in three areas: a summer AP physics camp for high school students, training counselors on STEM careers and gender equity training for teachers.
“We had looked at test scores in three different subjects – physics, chemistry and computer science – and saw the pass rate for the students,” said Gass, “but we had never looked at the data by gender.”
The biggest gap in gender was in physics, which is why the decision was made to start a two week camp in the summer specifically for girls. The students go to the camp before their first physics class so they get the opportunity for more hands-on experience before they start physics class because they are already behind
before they step into the classroom. Because girls play with different toys than boys do, they have a hesitancy in working with electronics and mechanics, so giving them exposure early so they don’t have to fight the boys for the equipment boosts their confidence and is a primer for what they have to learn.
“When they go back into the classroom they have a lot more confidence. We have data that shows that the girls who attended camp have higher test scores for AP physics than the girls who didn’t go to camp,” said Gass. Since inception in 2003, 837 young women have attended camp.
The Teachers & Gender Equity Training
Daniel Brown teaches AP physics in DISD. Brown was invited, along with all the other AP physics teachers in DISD, to come to gender equity training by a specialist to help close the gender gap in DISD classrooms and boost test scores.
Brown’s reaction wasn’t very positive. “These people think I have a problem?” he asked. “I need to go to training to learn how to be nice to girls?” Brown thought the trainers were too touchy feely for him, out there advocating for some cause about how he had hurt somebody’s feelings. “I was not very intellectually engaged,” said Brown.
At that point, the teachers had no idea the women of TI were involved, they only knew the invitation email was from the Dallas Women’s Foundation and Advanced Placement Strategies, the organization originating the AP scores for DISD. Attached to the email was a spreadsheet on math SAT scores segregated by gender. “I was shocked that the smarter the kids were, the bigger the gender gap got,” Brown said. “For the kids who scored 700-800, the gender gap was wider there than anywhere else.” Brown was now intellectually engaged – the students from his classes were bundled into that data.
As part of the training, the teachers watched videos about the blind spots they might have in the classroom. Brown began to wonder if he was missing things in his own classroom commonly accepted in today’s culture and if he had blind spots. “I was very open-minded by the end of the training and I asked my department chair to come to my classroom to observe how I interact with males and females with things like how often I call on them,” said Brown. In Brown’s class he has two-thirds girls and asked the girls two-thirds of the questions but in his own mind he thought he had asked the girls 90 percent of the questions. “It dawned on me that maybe I have a problem.” At that point Brown became fully engaged.
Brown observed that no teacher intends to treat some students better than others with attention, time, praise, feedback and the ways their questions are answered. “We were not trying to be inequitable but we realized we were not being fair,” he said.
Along with the high school programs, gender equity has also been rolled out for 50 math and science teachers in middle schools with the direction of DISD
Teaching and Learning Manager, Regina Rice. “I’ve been able to sit in classrooms and see the culture has changed with teachers giving students positive affirmations, praise, interaction, and acceptance without having stereotypes and labels; we’ve been able to train our teachers to remove labels from kids . . . with that negative label there is no opportunity for kids to grow.”
Over 500 educators have attended equity training.
Biology or Society?
A sentence on the HTHH website sums up the challenge: “Societal norms often discourage women and girls from participating in math and science, even though there’s no scientific evidence indicating a gender difference in the intelligence, creativity or aptitude.”
Vicky Rupp is a TI engineer with degrees in computer science and electrical engineering and runs the speaker’s bureau for HTHH. “A couple of years ago we were at a Fort Worth High School when someone said, ‘Don’t high school girls have better things to do like go to prom?’”
For Rupp, calculus and physics don’t keep girls from going to prom. “We had a bit of a dialogue because they couldn’t comprehend that girls could make learning equally as important as prom or homecoming,” she said. “We eventually came to grips that you can do all of these things.”
Aug 29, 2015 Comments Off on CEO Secrets To Building Human Capital
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