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July 25, 2014, 7:46 am

Sorority, Girl Scouts nurture future scientists

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., an African-American sorority founded amid segregation and educational injustice, has joined a unique program spearheaded by the Girl Scouts of the United States of America to provide a new approach to getting middle and high school female students more interested in STEM-related coursework and possible careers.

Fields and industry related to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — have long been staffed by mostly white males, and officials with the Girl Scouts’ “Imagine Engineering” initiative believe participation in this program will help turn that tide.

“Girl Scouting and Sigma Gamma Rho have the same goal: to build the nation’s future leaders by helping girls dream big and accomplish much today,” said GSUSA Chief Executive Officer Anna Maria Chavez. “We are delighted to be part of this partnership to help girls do great things in critical fields such as science, technology, engineering and math.”

To raise awareness about the initiative, the Girl Scouts has released a series of guides specifically geared to the ethnicity of the young lady that may be interested in STEM-related fields, such as specially-created guides for African-American, Hispanic and Native American female students.

As part of the program, the Girl Scouts have crafted an encompassing website, http://www.girlscouts.org/imagineengineering, which breaks down the seven major engineering disciplines — aeronautical, biomedical, civil, electrical/computer, environmental, industrial and mechanical/design — and provides a breakdown of each specific discipline while giving advice how to approach the industry.

The guide also shows the starting salaries for entry-level STEM positions, and also provides related examples of women who have made inroads into the STEM community.

For example, the African-American guide contains an interview with Vicki Gambrell, a mechanical engineer with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, while the Hispanic guide includes a Q&A with Elizabeth Cercado and Michelle M. Font, both mechanical engineers with Boing. In both instances, the accomplished women talked not only of the drive necessary to succeed in a male-dominated field, but of the particularities and nuances of their position as well. Overall, these interviews provide an inspiring message, such as the story relayed by Font in the Hispanic guide, who spoke of ignoring cultural and sexist barriers to become the engineer that she is today.

“I wouldn’t say I have had many cultural barriers. If there were, I did not pay any attention to them. I am a very optimistic person who does not let things bring me down or get in my way. One minor issue does come to mind — I was an intern, and I lived at home. In my house, family, and culture, living at home is something that women do until they are married. In my early years at the company prior to graduating, people would constantly tell me that it’s not right for a 20-something-year-old to live at home,” Font said. “They would try to put me down and would succeed at making me feel uncomfortable, but I never let it affect me. I simply educated them and explained to them why I do what I do. I was brought up with good morals and values, and respecting my parents is one of those. I respect their rules and love living in a house of traditional values.

“Sometimes the best way to overcome discrimination is by education,” Font continued. “More often than not, the offender just isn’t educated about the subject enough to make a kind comment.”

The guides and website also offer tips on what parents can do to help their daughter cultivate her STEM interests, and also included vital steps the student should take in middle school, high school and college to prepare for a career in a related field.

Sigma Gamma Rho’s emphasis is on scholarship, sisterhood and service, and the sorority addresses concerns that impact society educationally, civically, and economically, according to its mission statement.

To that end, its involvement in the “Imagine Engineering” initiative could be considered all but a given.

“Response to Imagine Engineering has been terrific,” said Sigma Gamma Rho National President Bonita Herring through a statement released by the Girl Scouts. “We surveyed 250 girls who took part in the program, and more than two thirds of them said they now understood how ‘someone like me’ could become an engineer.

“We will not only expand our efforts with this program, but we will reach out to girls nationwide in our communities with a combination of our own healthy living program, Project Reassurance, and the Girl Scouts’ program for middle-school girls on healthy relationships and bullying,” Herring continued. “Through this continued partnership, we are going to do great things together for girls.”

 

Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .