STEMgirlz Working Towards a New Future

Keri Marable

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Bucks County Community College program STEMgirlz hosted an event called “Discovery Day” on the Newtown campus last month. Middle School girls were invited to engage in various hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) related activities with professionals in those fields
Professor Emeritus Arta Szathmary from the Computer Science Department at BCCC is the STEMgirlz founder and coordinator. Szathmary is celebrating her 10th anniversary of retirement and her 40th Anniversary with BCCC, as she still teaches part-time.
Szathmary had help from many participating groups to bring this event together, “Registration, scheduling and staffing of most sessions was done by the current STEM Department. This year, all expenses were covered and the foundation provided each girl and volunteer with wonderful Tee Shirts,”
Szathmary continued, “I feel confident the tradition will continue long after I am unable to participate. The AAUW of Makefield, Lower Bucks, and Doylestown provided wonderful SWAG BAGS, and manned registration in the morning. They were very helpful and we appreciate it.”
Szathmary worked with Techgirlz in Philadelphia, and wanted to bring a similar operation to Bucks County. With the help of the Dean of STEM department at the time, Lisa Angelo, Szathmary made Techgirlz at BCCC now known as STEMgirlz. STEMgirlz at BCCC is just one of many programs being implemented across America today to encourage girls to engage in STEM.
The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that in 2015 America still lacked females in the STEM field. According to the report, women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs.
“Diversity in STEM is important for the future of America, we need to have more creators in the future,” Szathmary said.
Two professors of the STEM department, Professors Adrianne Morelli and Debra Geoghan, shared their experiences within the STEM field and their outlooks for the future of more females in STEM.
Professor Adrianne Morelli has worked for BCCC for 14 years. and is now currently an associate professor of math. When asked what inspired her to go into the STEM field, Morelli explained, “I always loved science and math as a child… I won a math contest in seventh grade and I knew then that I wanted to do something with math.”
Morelli believes that “it is very important for young women to realize their potentials despite their gender. Many times, girls are told that they are not as smart as boys and can’t achieve the same thing especially in math and science classes.”
As a female in the STEM field, Morelli went on to say, “Often people are surprised and make comments that I teach math let alone college math. There is a stereotype that only older men can teach college level math. Because I don’t fit into that stereotype,”
Morelli continued, “I get weird reactions from people… in [an] industry that women constantly must prove themselves as being able to do the same work as men, I don’t feel that way here because we have an amazing group of administrators and faculty that all work together regardless of their gender.”
To encourage more females to enter the STEM field with programs like STEMgirlz, Morelli believes that “The first step is to expose young girls to STEM activities. Also, we need to give girls confidence to explore many different fields that were once thought to be things only men could be successful at. This may mean changing teacher’s perceptions in elementary school by treating girls the same way that they treat boys. Besides my parents, I had many teachers who believed in me and did not discourage me from following my dream of a career in STEM.”
Professor Debra Geoghan has been a professor of computer science at Bucks for 18 years. She is also the STEM Department Coordinator.
Geoghan was inspired to join the STEM field because, “[she] was always interested in how things work and taking them apart and putting them back together. Science, and Computer Science in particular are exciting because things are always changing and expanding.”
Geoghan believes that the need for females in STEM is important because, “the perspectives that decide on research and development- new products, technologies, medical research- need to represent all of the population not just a portion of it.”
Geoghan goes on to explain the prejudice she has faced as a woman in STEM, “When I was younger, there were men who would not answer the phone if they saw it was my extension. I used to use my colleague’s phone when I needed someone to pick up the phone on the other end. It was very frustrating. Over time, I earned the respect that my colleagues got automatically, but I had to prove myself over and over to get there.”
In order to bring more females into the STEM field Geoghan believes, “We need to make STEM fields appealing to females, make them understand the importance of pushing into male-dominated fields- how it is good for society and good for them as individuals.”

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