NextGen STEM: how our BE/Gates Foundation symposium advances the creation of Women of Power in science and technology.

Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Position:Tech: BE SMART - Science, technology, engineering, and math - Bill & Melinda

How can we bring more young women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and ensure that they advance in the field? That question was addressed at the symposium biack enterprise produced with support from the Bill 6 Melinda Gates Foundation: "Educating Our Daughters: Preparing Female Students to Become 21st Century Leaders." It was held during this year's Women of Power Summit, attended by more than 700 executives and entrepreneurs in Boca Raton, Florida, where they gained guidance from business leaders and engaged in power networking.

The session was moderated by Suzanne Walsh, Gates Foundation deputy director, postsecondary success, and featured a powerhouse panel of speakers: Kimberly Bryant, executive director of Black Girls Code; Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College; Ella Edmondson Bell, president of Ascent; and Sandra Finley, CEO of the League of Black Women. Collectively and individually, the speakers shared an array of tough-love advice and inventive strategies to promote talent development, mentorship, and college financing, among other areas. As part of the Thought Leaders Dinner that immediately followed, attendees agreed to make yearlong commitments to find innovative ways to feed the STEM pipeline.

The event offered the latest call to action for African American professionals to play a role in giving black male and female students the best shot at accessing STEM careers and becoming the next generation of business innovators and leaders. Some such game changers could be found on the stage at WPS; others were recently recognized by the White House as "Champions of Change"--people who have designed models of inclusion in science and technology (see the mini profiles below).

Reviewing what was said during the symposium about the prospects for young black women, one quickly realizes that such advocates are desperately needed. A disheartening stat, for instance, reveals that African American women make up just 2% of engineers. Spelman's Tatum asserts that roughly one-third of students of color who express an interest in STEM become discouraged. Environment, she says, makes a difference. "Why is there so much success at Spelman College with STEM? It is because of sisterhood and built-in support."

Mothers have to be more courageous, Finley says, about encouraging their daughters to pursue STEM paths even if they as mothers may not know the way. Edmondson Bell asserts that the conversation must take place...

To continue reading