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Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

27 December 2016

Review: Hidden Figures (book) by Margot Lee Shetterly

I am a nerd in many different ways. I love math. I went to Space Camp for my 40th birthday. I could go on, but I think I have established my nerd credentials. Thus when I heard this book came out and a movie, I could not wait! I picked up this book at Powell's Portland airport store. Let me tell you,  Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a beautifully written book about the collision of race, gender, and science in the USA from World War II to the late 1960s.

Hidden Figures tells the stories of a number of African American women who found themselves working on engineering projects during World War II and through the 1960s space race. Oh, I should add that they were doing all of this in Virginia too.

As someone who has spent her career working to diversify science, technology, engineering and mathematics, these type of stories are not new to me, even if the characters are. There are so many hidden figures in the annals of the history of science we could write books for a generation. No, what is most compelling about Hidden Figures is how effortlessly Shetterly connects the dots between what is occurring in the government labs during the space race and what is happening in our society writ large.

All those sticky notes are places I wanted to quote to you, dear reader. Alas, that might border on copyright infringement.

In the prologue, Shetterly sets the stage with the fact that "growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine." This is so important to the overall story. The author grew up in a community where people of color did science, so no big whoop! Can you imagine the choices her generation were able to conceive because of this fact? Goodness. But as she untangles the threads of the stories, she begins to craft a new vision of where she came from. One where Black women as mathematicians were not only recruited, but due to discrimination a smart business move for the government agency that would become NASA. And yes, despite the professionalism that one would give to a government mathematician, the burden of working hard and long hours to offer one's children a "better life" was just as real for these women as the women who labored in homes and factories.

Time and time again Shetterly balances the progress happening in the research labs with how stuck Virginia and the rest of the country were in terms of race and gender relations.

In relation to African Americans fighting in World War II, she writes:
The system that kept the black race at the bottom of American society was do deeply rooted in the nation's history that it was impervious to the country's ideals of equality. 
In relation to using education as a force for social advancement:
The Negro's ladder to the American dream was missing rungs, with even the most outwardly successful blacks worries that at any moment the forces of discrimination would lay waste to their economic security.
Shetterly never lets the readers forget the larger social forces at play, even as our heroes make leaps in mathematical theory. The reality is that they are Black women in the South in the 1940s to 1960s. No amount of heroism allows them to escape that gravitational pull. The desegregation of schools was a huge issue at the time of these women's fantastic accomplishments, but Shetterly writes:
As fantastical as American's space ambitions might have seemed, sending a man into space was starting to feel like a straightforward task compared to putting black and white student together in the same Virginia classrooms. 
One especially touching and brilliant example of the two worlds these women were living in was when Mary Jackon's son wins the box car derby.
Mary knew that her son was a ringer; the two of them had been building to win. Brain busters' kids were supposed to come out on top in a race like this, even if the brain buster was a woman, or black, or both.
Shetterly shares many women's stories with us in 265 pages. You may get overwhelmed by the number of stories as well as the emotions that come along. But keep track. Their stories have been hidden so long that Shetterly could have written a whole book on each woman. Maybe she should for children to read along with their biographies of Glenn, Armstrong, and Lindberg. Because these women may never have gone into space or set foot on the moon, but they are no less part of our history of exploration and American exceptionalism.

Buy a copy from Powells or IndieBound. And go see the movie! I can't wait to see it myself.

19 May 2015

Join me for #STEMchat with SciGirls on May 21!

As long-time readers know, my paying job is to support women who are studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). I often get asked what the magic key or silver bullet is for getting more girls into STEM. While the actual answer is complex and nuanced, when I am talking with parents it usually ends up being, "Let them break things & get dirty." This is why I am excited to invite you to join me for #STEMchat with SciGirls on May 21st about citizen science. I love the tagline, "Do Try This at Home," because that is such a key to the puzzle! Do science at home. Demystify it. You don't have to be a genius to do science. And I'm super excited to be chatting with SciGirls.

Now in its third season, SciGirls features real-life girls and mentors engaging in science, citizen science. As the SciGirls track toads and count clouds, they also hope to inspire SciGirls (and SciBoys) to join the citizen science movement. Citizen science invites children and their families to make key observations as well as record and share data on large-scale research projects run by real scientists. It’s a fun way for the entire family to participate in the scientific process. Some citizen science projects run for so many years, that participation in them can easily become a family tradition.

Speaking of families, PBS Parents has a bunch of STEM-sational resources, including an overview of SciGirl episodes and extension activities you can do at home.

#STEMchat will take place on 5/21 from 9 – 10 PM Eastern.

I'm on an awesome panel of grown-up SciGirls to help lead the #STEMchat on Citizen Science:

@SciGirls, SciGirls is an Emmy Award-winning PBS KIDS TV show, website and outreach program that seeks to change how girls think about STEM.

@CoopSciScoop, Caren Cooper, a bird-loving biologist and blogger who is literally writing the book on citizen science.

@ScienceGoddess, Joanne Manaster, Read Science host, STEM advocate, biology lecturer, and former international model.

@TheSpaceGal, Emily Calandrelli, promoter of science literacy, space exploration and equality. She’s also the host and producer of the Show Xploration Outer Space. Read her STEM Girl Friday Feature.

And @KimMoldofsky, also known as The Maker Mom and founder of #STEMchat. You might also follow her at @STEMchat, which is her default account if she lands in Twitter “jail.”

Spread the news to your STEM-loving friends and colleagues. Share the #STEMchat joy with these sample tweets!

*Join me for #STEMchat on Twitter 5/21 at 9 PM Eastern to talk #CitizenScience with @SciGirls

*Join me for #STEMchat with @Veronicaeye and @SciGirls on Twitter 5/21 at 9 PM!

=====================
Kim put together a recap of the twitter chat! 

17 May 2011

Dear NASA

I was 11 and in 5th grade on a field trip to Chinatown when Katie S. came up to me to announce that Challenger had exploded. I didn't believe her. My group found a TV in a shop or restaurant, I can't recall, and there it was...on TV...the truth...it had.

When we got back to school our teacher had that talk with us. How they were brave, it was risky and she revealed how she almost had applied for the teacher astronaut program. For most of the people I knew, the explosion proved to them that some things were too risky to attempt. For me, the space bug didn't just bite me, it burrowed into my soul. I became obsessed. It didn't hurt that I was able to connect my new obsession with my longer obsession with President Kennedy. Yeah, I was a strange kid.

Soon I was able to rattle off the names of the Mercury and Apollo astronauts along with which missions they flew in. I observed the dates of the Apollo 1 and Challenger tragedies for years. I find it ironic that one of THE case studies I need to know in and out for my study of public administration, feminist public administration and gender in public administration is the Challenger explosion. Sometimes I like to think of it as a sign that I'm on the right track. Full circle.

Monday morning I sat on my bed as my 7-year-old daughter squirmed and her daddy stood as we watched the final launch of Endeavour. I cried remembering all those we have lost as we have pushed the boundaries of science, engineering and exploration. I cried for losing that obsession as a teen (it was transferred to marine biology). I cried because the shuttle is, for me, the epitome of what it means to be from the USA. A symbol of our intellect, our innovation, our team work, our courage, our curiosity - all wrapped up in a huge white ship. I am the most patriotic when watching the shuttle launch or land.

As we were stressing the importance of the launch to our daughter, she translated it into, "I wish I could had been an astronaut!" Damn! She took all this "last" launch as the end of space exploration. We quickly corrected her. Whew!

Later in the day I received an email from my daughter's science teacher. She had showed the launch to her first graders. A girl asked Ms. M why there aren't women astronauts. Endeavour is an all-male crew. It was quickly explained that there are women astronauts, just not on this shuttle.

I fear that kids around the country may take the celebration of the last launches as a signal that it's all over. So please continue to make news. Continue to discover things with your awesome robots and satellites. Continue to show us how much impact you have on our lives. Because we can't afford to have my daughter's generation think they won't fly among the stars.

Thanks,
Veronica

PS: Hope to see you next year at Family Space Camp.

06 December 2010

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada

December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l'école Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women.

As well as commemorating the 14 young women whose lives ended in an act of gender-based violence that shocked the nation, December 6 represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women in our society. It is also an opportunity to consider the women and girls for whom violence is a daily reality, and to remember those who have died as a result of gender-based violence. And finally, it is a day on which communities can consider concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Pretty much my whole career is about women in science & engineering. The murder of 14 young women who were studying to be engineers happened when I was still in high school, yet I still hear murmurs about women taking men's places in this or that. This act of terrorism was about privilege. The person who killed the women felt he was being overlooked because women were in the way. To think that some people still think that or make women feel like they are "in the way" or just there because they are women pisses me off like nothing else.

I've been busy with wrapping up my first semester in "The Great PhD Race," to write much or ask you all to remember to donate whatever you can ($10 or $100) to support the Chicago Abortion Fund. But I do hope that as you consider your end of the year giving, you will put CAF on that list. Thanks.

20 April 2010

Equal Pay Day 2010: Wage gap in science and engineering

Today is Blog for Equal Pay Day! 


This post isn't meant to be lazy, but I realized that the idea I had for today I already did over at Girl w/Pen. Yes, I've finally gotten to the point in my writing where I have forgotten what I've written about. It took a web search to remind me. Oh, so pathetic...but back to today's post....

One reason why I am passionate about piquing girls' interest in science and engineering as a career path is the money. Even in this recession, starting salaries for computer-related and engineering careers are on the rise. They are also usually higher than any other field. This can be quite a carrot for sticking out a second semester of Calculus or even organic chemistry.

But I also tell my students that there is a wage gap for scientists and engineers. Back in 1999, the National Science Foundation found that the wage gap for engineers was only 13 cents. Not bad. Overall for science, engineering and math, it looks like the wage gap in 2001 for starting salaries was 24 cents.

Some have theorized that the difference in the wage gap between science and engineering can be attributed to the market. Since there are less women in engineering, they can usually negotiate a better salary since they are more in demand. Some have also theorized that the biological sciences are facing dropping salaries since more women are entering...This is yet to be proven...salary wise anyway.

Bottom-line is that the wage gap impacts all women. Even in uber-women dominated careers like nursing, men out earn women.

And of course the gap widens for women of color as seen in these lovely graphics that the Feminist Looking Glass posted from NPR. Although considering the serious lack of people of color in science and engineering, I'd love to look at that wage gap.

Other Equal Pay Day links of note:

24 March 2010

Women's History Month: Ada Lovelace Day 2010


For Finding Ada 2010, I would like to talk about Engineer Your Life.

It's a website that is geared towards girls, but anyone can visit and learn, and focuses on why a career in engineering is rewarding and fun. They have a list of 10 reasons why you will love your career in engineering.

Parents and those of you lucky enough to have an impact on young people's lives, please encourage them to visit this site. There is still such a stereotype that engineering is just about rockets and bridges. I blame years of physics and calculus classes for reinforcing this view. As we saw in Minnesota a few years ago, bridges are important. But we don't quite teach that in our schools. We also don't teach our children that engineering touches our lives and will shape the future. That is why we need to point them to the area about finding their dream job.

There is a stereotype, that bears fruit in real life, that girls are more likely to be drawn towards careers that clearly benefit humankind like social work, teaching and medicine.

That is why the finding your dream job section is awesome. Take computer science. This is one field where women are DECLINING in numbers around the country. It's quite a puzzle. But it becomes a bit clearer if we think about what we think about when we consider computer science as a career. Do we think of people programming computers? Creating new software for us to use? Tool makers?

They are, but as Engineer Your Life points out, computer scientists are designing new tools for doctors to use help detect cancer better. Ladies....Dreaming about a mammogram that doesn't squish your boobs into a pancake? That's a job for a computer engineer. Why not encourage your daughter to solve that problem?

There are a lot of ways that parents, teachers and everyone else can help encourage girls to dream of an engineering career. It will take all of us. Read the latest AAUW report - it's not super academic & full of jargon - to see how you can help....even the newborn girl in your life.

14 January 2010

SCIENCE GRRL: Research proves girls & boys equally good at math…again

This was originally posted at Girl w/Pen


Do you ever think, “Duh!?” when you read a news story about how fattening movie popcorn or fast food is for us? I get that same feeling when I read that yet another research study has been published proving that girls and boys are equally good at math. How much more proof do we need?

Professor Marcia Linn’s paper focuses in on why there are differences in girls confidence around the world. The answer? Social expectations. [PDF link]
A society’s gendered division of labor fosters the development of gender differences in behavior by affording different restrictions and opportunities to males and females on the basis of their social roles….if the cultural roles that women fulfill do not include math, girls may face both structural obstacles (e.g., formal access to education is limited to boys) and social obstacles (e.g., stereotypes that math is a male domain) that impede their mathematical development.
Many people like to believe that we live in a post-feminist society. The evidence includes Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and women making up half of the workforce. But girls and boys still receive messages on a daily basis that they have roles to play and only those roles. As recently as this past holiday toy buying season, Toys R Us advertised three different magnification power microscopes and  telescopes, guess which one had the lowest power? Yup, the pink one.

Some will argue that we need to pinkify science things to attract girls, but do they also need weaker microscopes too?

And that brings us to another Duh moment…Pink often does stink.

29 October 2009

Where to send the girls who do like computer science

Originally posted at AWEARNESS

WOW!

I can't believe the response my post about girls and computer science on Wednesday received on Twitter. Thanks. Many of the retweets were of "don't forget us too!" variety, so to follow up on the popular post, here is a quick run down of just a handful of the amazing groups working to recruit girls to computer science and keep them interested. Please, please add additional ones in the comments!
  • Anita Borg: This is a powerhouse organization that works to connect tech companies to women. ABI offers workshops, publications and information aimed to develop leadership skills; celebrates and highlights the success of women who are changing the face of technology; and provides programs that change the way technology is created, learned and taught. One peek at their board and you'll see that the movers & shakers of technology are gathering at ABI to bring more women to the keyboard.

Read the rest of the resource list over at AWEARNESS please. Thanks!

28 October 2009

Wanted: Girls who like computer science - From AWEARNESS

Originally posted at AWEARNESS

Despite the rise of women attending college and becoming the majority of the workforce, one area that continues to be ignored by women and girls is computer science.

There are many theories as to why girls love using computers (women are the majority of social media users) but don't want to learn how to program or build computers. There are those who chalk it up to gender differences plain and simple. Some believe it is because girls are repelled by geek or hacker culture. Universities and companies who hire computer scientists are constantly recruiting girls and trying to show them why computer science is a great option.

One part of the theory why girls are excluded from hacker culture is that it is too "frattish" and misogynistic. That is why I find the lap dances at a recent Yahoo! event (Yahoo! paid for women to dance in skimpy clothing at a "brainstorming session") to be especially atrocious.

Read the rest over at AWEARNESS please! Thanks. 

15 October 2009

It's been a busy month for science grrls!

Originally posted at Girl w/Pen

It seems like every other story in the past month had a science grrl at its core. Some were good, some not so much. I honestly couldn’t make up my mind on which story to write about, so I’ll write a little about all of them:
  • Elinor Ostrom is the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. The best part of her story? That her high school advisor told her that she couldn’t take trigonometry because she was a girl. It’s been quite some time, but if that advisor is still alive, I hope they give her a call to apologize. Otherwise, girls take note. My high school advisor was horrible my freshman year, so I switched. If you don’t feel supported, find someone else to talk to!
  • Ostrom topped off what has been a banner year of women winning the Nobel. We had the first time two women won a Nobel together (in medicine). The advisor-former graduate student pairing makes my heart a flutter. Now that’s Sisterhood NOT Interrupted! In addition, Ada Yonath won in Chemistry.
  • The motive for the murder of Annie Le is still to be revealed, but for me it doesn’t take much to see this crime as a possible crime against women in science. While I was still pondering the role that gender in the lab played in the crime, another woman was attacked in a lab. Sadly women in science history holds one huge dark chapter: In 1989 a man massacred 14 women as he “fought feminism” in Canada.
  • In animation land, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is telling young girls to not dumb themselves down and embrace their geekdom. My husband took our six-year-old daughter to see this movie while I was out of town over the weekend. She’s certainly not dumbing herself down…yet…but my money is on the fact that she’ll remember that the main character’s dad dies rather than she should be herself.
  • Considering the high participation of women in environmental science and public health, we could see more women winning Nobels if some new awards are added in the future.
  • And while she does fall under science FICTION, I think that Octavia Butler deserves to close out this post. Her novels paint a bleak picture for our future, but the way to avoid most of it are also laid out in her novels. She uses science to craft her stories, even in her last unfinished story arc on vampires science is a huge character. And now the Huntington Library is where her papers will be stored (PDF link). I eagerly await a biography on this genius who was taken from us way too soon.

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This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.
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