We seem to live in an era where lots of people think that the work of women’s equality is done. Women have reached the board room, are running major companies, and have served in high level government offices. There is much of which to be proud. When today’s young women often see themselves in these types of leadership roles because they are seeing other women in those positions already, they become a viable option. Unfortunately, even today, there are some fields in which women do not figure prominently. One of those is the world of STEM. As many of you know, the Putnam City Schools Foundation supports the school district’s efforts to provide STEM Labs in our elementary schools. We are proud of this young program, and are already seeing positive benefits from it in the numbers of girls involved.
The Oklahoma Engineering Foundation presented another opportunity for the foundation to support STEM while encouraging young women to consider the field for work. This group recently hosted a free showing of the film Hidden Figures at the Harkin Theater, followed by a panel discussion with some women in science. Thanks to the donations from a few businesses and individuals, we were able to pay for the cost of substitutes from our YES! Fund so our teachers could take a group of girls on this fun excursion.
If you haven’t seen this Academy Award nominated film, you should. It tells the story of three black women known as human computers. They were charged with plotting astronaut John Glenn’s flight plan into orbit around earth, and returning him safely home. Though they played an integral role in a milestone of US History and I am a US History teacher, I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of them. I’m so glad that won’t be said by the high school students who attended this event.
The panel discussion followed the film, and gave our girls an opportunity to ask questions of these female scientists and engineers. The panelists’ work ranged from teaching engineering at Francis Tuttle Technology Center to running the global communications system for the US military. Our girls were flabbergasted. “I didn’t know about all those jobs, and that we could do them!” one freshman girl said.
It was quite eye- opening to hear another girl say the film and discussion “really taught me how we can stand up for ourselves and do man’s work.” Another young woman said “although it’s harder for us women to do what we want in this world, keep pursuing our dreams no matter what people say.” These girls report being inspired by the women who spoke to them and intrigued by the job opportunities present in this field.
The Putnam City Schools Foundation was only a small part of making this trip happen, and on the surface paying for substitutes is kind of boring. But when it leads to this level of exposure for our high school girls, exposure that could change the trajectory of their lives, then it was money well spent. As one participant said, this “pushed me toward achieving my goals in the science and technology field. “ That’s what I like to hear!