A Game Plan to Get Girls Excited About Science

April 26, 2019

At WCS, we are proud to partner with Lyda Hill Philanthropies on the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Program. We spoke with Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies and co-founder of IF/THEN, about the goals.

WCS: What is the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) IF/THEN Ambassadors Program?

Nicole Small: The program is designed to highlight and empower women in STEM, and to show girls the different STEM career pathways they can pursue. The program also demonstrates how STEM impacts people’s lives in both expected and unexpected ways. The Ambassadors Program will bring together 100 women from a variety of STEM careers—including entertainment, fashion, gaming, manufacturing, music, research and development, sports and more—encouraging them to serve as high-profile role models for middle-school girls. Each ambassador will receive a $5,000 award, along with the opportunity to tell her story on a national platform to help inspire the next generation of STEM pioneers. Think of us as a talent agency for women in science!

WCS: What is the goal of the program?

NS: We need a game plan to get girls excited about science and the time is now. By elevating real women in STEM, the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Program will provide girls with real-life role models who exemplify how STEM impacts our lives. Ultimately, our goal is for the ambassadors to share their stories and STEM journeys on national platforms to help inspire the next generation of STEM pioneers. We want to change the narratives behind female STEM innovators and show the world that if we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.

"We want to change the narratives behind female STEM innovators. Show the world that if we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world."

WCS: Who can apply and how?

NS: We are currently accepting applications for the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Program at www.aaas.org/ifthen. Applicants should be U.S.-based and have training in a STEM discipline and must have demonstrated experience in media, STEM education or public engagement activities. Our ideal ambassador is committed to and passionate about supporting and uplifting women and girls in STEM. We encourage women of all backgrounds and STEM careers to apply. We need girls to see our ambassadors as role models, so we want to showcase all that women in STEM have to offer.

WCS: What will be expected of the ambassadors?

NS: AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors will share stories of their STEM journeys and the many ways in which they use STEM to solve problems and create new possibilities for the future. That includes attending an in-person summit in Dallas this October where they’ll receive media coaching and support from specialists in science communications, develop personal press kits and learn to tell their stories in compelling ways. In addition to the summit, our ambassadors will participate in media opportunities (including original media content) and connect directly with middle-school girls, both in the classroom and through informal science education settings via virtual platforms, museum exhibits and much more.

WCS: How long is the program?

NS: It will begin in August 2019 and officially kick off with an in-person summit in October. Ambassadors will have access to skill-building, media and engagement opportunities through February 2021.

WCS: Why did Lyda Hill launch this program with AAAS?

NS: At Lyda Hill Philanthropies, we believe that science is the answer to many of life’s most challenging issues. We fund game-changing advancements in science and technology and believe that promoting diverse opinions is critical to building a more innovative future, shifting our culture and inspiring the next generation of world-changers. With IF/THEN, one of our newest initiatives at Lyda Hill Philanthropies, we want to create a cultural shift in the way people see women in STEM. The ambassadors program is the first step in creating this movement, and we’re thrilled to partner with AAAS.

WCS: Why is it important to focus on women and girls in science?

NS: The IF/THEN initiative is ambitious; we need a game plan to get girls excited about science. We conducted a study with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and found that girls and women are more likely to pursue STEM careers if they have a role model in the field. However, so many girls lack access to those role models. We need to provide middle-school girls with access to strong and visible female role models across an array of STEM industries, which is key to their future success. We aim to transform the collective energy of this coalition into a sustainable movement that not only empowers women in STEM and the next generation of pioneers, but also creates a culture shift and helps change the way our country and the world think about women in STEM.

WCS: Are women and girls underrepresented in the science fields, and if so, why do you think that is?

NS: More than 6.7 million men in the United States have a degree in STEM compared to 2.5 million women. Women make up just 25 percent of the STEM industry, even though they constitute about half of the college-educated workforce in the U.S., according to federal data. Female STEM professionals are less visible and paid less than their male counterparts. Take Katie Bouman, as a recent example. While her role in capturing the first-ever image of a black hole was a great day for women in STEM, it was a rare moment in the spotlight for women in science. Women STEM professionals don’t often receive the same representation – both in media and professionally – as men. We have set out to change that, and we believe we can bridge the gender gap in STEM by partnering with coalition members in and science, media, fashion, education, philanthropy, entertainment, sports and beyond.

WCS: What is needed by society as a whole to increase women and girls in the fields of science?

NS: I’ve been involved in science and STEM awareness for years, and I’ve seen firsthand how girls don’t envision themselves in future STEM careers. If they can’t see women in STEM roles, they won’t believe that they too can one day fill them. Society needs to embrace and empower women in STEM in classrooms, media and museums. IF/THEN works to ensure that women in STEM are represented in the spaces young girls go, whether they’re visiting a science museum, scrolling through YouTube or watching an episode of Bravo’s Project Runway. To ensure this happens and real change is made, we have partnered with three-dozen of the country’s preeminent science and cultural institutions to help raise the profiles of women in STEM and inspire the next generation of girls to consider STEM careers. Never before have so many institutions come together in such a way to create change for women in STEM, and we believe that by working together, we can build a better world.

WCS: What’s the significance of the name of the program—AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors Program?

NS: We believe the key to creating change for women in STEM is by working with other organizations that share our commitment to advocating for women in STEM and inspiring girls. AAAS is one of our coalition members, and we are so proud to partner with them to create the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors program. The name of the program is significant because the women chosen as ambassadors will represent both IF/THEN and AAAS in the work they do and stories they tell. And, of course, IF you support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world!

WCS: When will the ambassadors be announced?

NS: We will have two cycles of reviewing applications and selecting applicants. The first cycle of ambassadors will be announced in early July, and the second cycle will be announced by early September.

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