Guest Blog Post by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator, Grand Canyon Trust
Did you know springs support more than 20% of the endangered species in the United States?
Despite being small areas compared to lakes or oceans, springs are really diverse! However, springs are also one of the most threatened ecosystems: the Springs Stewardship Institute reports that a lack of information and attention to springs has resulted in over 90% of springs lost in some areas.
Earlier this year, Kathryn Wertz’s 6th graders at Sinagua Middle School, Kesava’s 4-6th graders at Haven Montessori, and the Centennial Forest Outdoor Leadership Academy with Manager Cheryl Miller got the chance to contribute to springs research. Students traveled to different springs, defined as emerging groundwater, and measured water quality, water flow, identified plants and animals, and collected information on the source and extent of the spring. Afterwards, they discussed why springs might be threatened: human water use, livestock grazing, mining, or pollution are just some of the threats to our springs. “Use less water!” “Practice leave no trace principles!” and “stay on the trail!” rang out when prompted for suggestions on how we could become stewards of the springs.
These data collected help support a large forest restoration project in northern Arizona. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is a collaborative effort across 2.4 million acres, to bring natural fire regimes, plant and animal diversity, and healthy forests back to the area. The project focuses on thinning small diameter trees, small prescribed fires, and also protecting water in the forests.
Springs are critical water sources for the diversity of animals that call forests home, and also for a variety of plant life. When forests become overcrowded (a healthy acre of forest should have about 30 trees or less, whereas now we might see 300 trees/acre), all those trees send deep roots down to suck up the available water. By thinning some of the trees, we will hopefully raise the water table, and provide access to surface water for the other species. The trees that are left to grow also have more space, more nutrients, and an easier time staying strong and healthy. A win-win for everyone!
Not only did these students collect important information that will be useful for forest management, but they also proved to be capable and enthusiastic citizen scientists! We can’t wait to do it again! Thank you to Joseph Holway from the Spring Stewardship Institute, Cheryl Miller from Centennial Forest, and Grand Canyon Trust for helping make this project a success. Thank you also to Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Heritage Fund for providing financial support to help get students outside doing real life STEM!
Teachers can apply for field trip funding through the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Grant program. Link to the Heritage Grant site above and/or download the pdf here! The grant proposal is due by October 31, 2017.
What did you do on YOUR summer holiday?
Sisilia Sinaga is a senior at BASIS Flagstaff who spent her summer as a volunteer intern at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff. Sisilia has a head start on her senior project focusing on her keen interest in artificial intelligence and neural networks. Alicia Vaughan, the Director of Student Affairs at BASIS, partnered Sisilia with her mentor Dr. Ryan Anderson at the Astrogeology Science Center. Because Sisilia already has a strong math and coding background, she was able to step into one of Dr. Anderson’s projects with the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Ryan and Sisilia are using PySAT (Python Spectral Analysis Tool), a program that Ryan is developing to analyze spectra like those returned by the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity Mars Rover. ChemCam shoots a laser at rocks and soil on Mars, breaking them down into a spark of plasma. The spectrum of light emitted from the spark contains a fingerprint of the chemical elements in the target. Sisilia is working on using neural networks to more accurately read that spectral fingerprint and dete4rmine the chemistry of the rocks and soils of Mars.
Neural python is the language within python that uses a library called TensorFlow™ to create neural networks. TensorFlow's website states that it was originally developed by researchers and engineers working on the Google Brain Team within Google's Machine Intelligence research organization for the purposes of conducting machine learning and deep neural networks research, but the system is general enough to be applicable in a wide variety of other domains as well.
Artificial neural networks (ANN's) are computing systems inspired by organismal nervous systems. Useful in image recognition ANN's can learn to identify images that contain a specific mineral by analyzing example images that have been previously labeled with that mineral.
Sisilia's biggest passions are computers, engineering, physics, astronomy, and math. She loves to program and write code in her free time. She is in her school's robotics club and participates in FTC competitions. She is also in the National Honor Society and volunteered with STEM City to assist students. Her first challenge was to fix the earthquake simulator at Killip Elementary School! You can see, via this video from Killip, that she was successful!
We wish Sisilia every success as she continues her senior project and pursues being accepted by her preferred university!
Thank you Sisilia for all you have done to advance STEM in STEM City!
Guest Blog Post by Karin Wadsack and Todd Traen, with an update from Jenna Samora
On Friday, April 28th, nearly 100 middle and high school students competed in the first Arizona KidWind Challenge wind turbine design competition. 20 teams of students came from Sinagua Middle School, Mount Elden Middle School, STAR School, Winslow High, Coconino High, and Northland Preparatory Academy. The teams brought a wind turbine they had designed and built ahead of time to test in a wind tunnel, determining whose turbine made the most electricity over a 30-second test period. The teams also competed based on their turbine design, technical presentation, technical design knowledge, and general wind energy knowledge. The teams each met with a group of judges from the wind industry, giving a presentation about their project and answering specific design and knowledge questions.
The teams also competed in “instant challenges,” building sail cars, windmills for weight lifting, and playing wind energy Jeopardy. Throughout the day, students got to interact with other students from different schools and grade levels, and explain their own projects to peers, teachers, coaches, and visiting guests.Turbines at the competition included vertical and horizontal axis turbines, systems with and without gears, and some turbines for which the students had wound their own generators.
Frequently heard: “This is AWESOME!” “Check out that design!” “I’m having SO MUCH fun!” “Next year we’re going to do _____!”
The Wind for Schools project staff of eight was supported by an additional eight amazing volunteers from the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals and the Climate Science and Solutions professional master’s program at NAU. The Expert Judges also volunteered their day to the event. The Boys & Girls Club of Flagstaff generously donated its facilities for the day.
Update from Jenna Samora on the MITe Team's trip to Nationals: The Mustang Gust Runners ended up taking 1st in the Vertical Axis Insta-Challenge, but did not score high on the original wind turbine design. After the first competition in Flagstaff, the students 3D-printed their own gears and created their own generator. However, they were unable to get the energy output that they hoped for, so they went back to using the KidWind generator. Even through their turbine was not the best design, the boys still learned a lot and had a great time!
Thank you to our dedicated judges!
Ross Taylor, Wind Subject Matter Expert
Ken Kotalik, Primus Wind Power
Jim Corning, Prometheus Renewables
Daniel Snyder, Westwind Solar Inc
Darrin Russell, Wind Subject Matter Expert
The dozen high school students in the iCREATE CTE Bioscience class toured two very different labs at NAU on Monday, April 24th. First, they ventured to the Geochronology Lab in the Science Lab Facility building where Lab Manager Katherine Whitacre described the process of amino acid racemization and how it is used to date small specimens including single microorganisms or bits of mollusk shells, egg shells, etc. Northern Arizona University has one of the few amino acid geochronology labs in the United States and has analyzed samples from all over the world for almost 20 years under the leadership of Lab Director and Regents Professor Darrell Kaufman. Below, graduate student Ethan Yackulic showed one of his sediment cores from Crater Lake in Colorado.
The lab has a large walk-in refrigerator with lake cores from all over the world, collected by NAU researchers and graduate students. The cores are kept cold so unwanted microorganisms don't grown on the surfaces. Ethan uses a Specim hyperspectral single core scanner designed for studying lake sediment core samples. By changing the range of wavelengths, he can detect locations of specific minerals or organic compounds, to help pinpoint where to collect his samples.
In the photos above: Katherine is dissolving mollusk shells with hydrochloric acid, an iCREATE student looks at shells under the microscope, and graduate student Kara Gibson uses a particle size analyzer on soil samples for her dissertation research.
Many of the research results from this lab focus on understanding paleoclimate change, which may then inform our understandings of, and models for, present climate change. You can learn more about this research here.
The next tour was to Nathan Nieto's lab in the Wettaw Biochemistry Building. Dr. Nieto has studied numerous animals in the past, but these days his lab is overwhelmed with ticks being mailed to him from all over the country. On an average day, the graduate students and undergraduate researchers in his lab will identify, grind, extract DNA and run real time PCR on 200-400 samples to determine whether the tick is host to pathogens such as Lyme disease and tick-borne relapsing fever. One week in May of 2016 he received over 2,000 ticks in the mail and it looks like he may exceed that this May. The tick study will identify what regions of the country have which species of ticks and what diseases they are carrying. This project will create a "heat map" of tick-borne diseases that can then be used by doctors and epidemiologists.
Photos above: Nate looks over where some of the many ticks are being mailed from, just a few of the mailboxes of ticks in his lab, and undergraduate Shienna Braga who is identifying the species of ticks at the microscope.
Photos above: Nate shows an iCREATE student the number of eggs one female tick laid, and graduate student Tanner Porter leads the lab tour for the students, including the refrigerator with thousands of samples from numerous animals including coyote tongues (possible reservoir for Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever), mice, squirrels, bats and more!
Nate's lab website explains what keeps him busy: "Our research focuses on the ecological maintenance and evolution of infectious diseases in wild animals and how this translates into transmission of disease to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife. We use a mixture of microbiology, molecular biology, phylogenetics and population ecology to investigate empirical infectious disease dynamics in wild animal populations.
Thank you Katherine, Nate, and generous students for sharing your time and knowledge with the iCREATE bioscience class!
Guest Blog Post by Larry Hendricks, PR and Publications Coordinator, Coconino Community College
CCC CAVIAT Students Focus on Health Professions
They’re taking college classes, but they’re still in high school. Not only that, but they’ve proved their mettle in problem solving in the health occupations, and they’re on their way to a statewide competition in April.
Twelve students in Coconino Community College’s Dual Enrollment/CAVIAT BIO 298 class took exams on Creative Problem Solving through Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA). This class is taught by CCC Science Faculty and Bridges to Baccalaureate Principal Investigator Dr. Aaron Tabor, NAU Graduate Students and CCC Instructors Christina Baze and Bobby Woodruff.
“Four of the students qualified to go to the state level,” Tabor said, adding that all of the students are equally intelligent and deserving of accolades. The team placed ninth overall.
The four students, all 10th graders, are Cate Cole and Ethan Perelstein from Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy; and Kaleb Herrelko and Jacqueline Slack from Coconino High School.
According to information from HOSA, its mission is to “promote career opportunities in the health care industry and to enhance the deliver of quality health care to all people.” The focus is on health science education and biomedical science programs to promote interest in pursuing careers in the health professions.
To prepare for the exams, Slack said that the team began by reading books on creative problem solving and by researching various health-related problems in the community. Cole added that the team tested one another with problems as well as timing the testing for solutions.
During testing, the team had 30 minutes to prepare and had 8 minutes to present their case in front of a panel to judge. They made the grade, and now they’re heading to Tucson for the statewide competition.
“I personally am excited to meet other students like us, who are science minded,” Perelstein said.
Herrelko added, “That could be fun.”
Slack said, “I’m very excited to compete.”
Cole said, “I’m really excited to see what we can come up with – real-world problems that affect millions across the globe.”
The team members are part of the iCREATE High School Bioscience program. The class offers six credit hours from CCC to apply to a college degree. The students meet five days a week at the Center for Teaching and Learning at Northern Arizona University for lectures and labs. The program is offered through the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology.
“I love coming here and getting a taste of what college and medical school will offer,” Cole said.
Perelstein said, “For me, this class is challenging, it’s engaging, and that’s what I really love.”
Herrelko said, “I like the challenge and it requires more persistence.”
Slack said, “I’m excited that every day after school, I get to be around science-oriented, like-minded people.”
For Tabor, he said he thoroughly enjoys being the instructor for the class.
“Frankly, it’s the students,” he said. “I never in a thousand years anticipated teaching K-12 students at all, but this group of students is one of the best I’ve ever encountered.”
Tabor added that his job is to educate the students on the translational sciences and the epidemiology field, but he also is to assist them with their professional growth – creating curriculum vitaes, attending conferences, performing public speaking, seeking publication, and more.
As for the state competition in April, Tabor said the students can go to the national level in the event if they are rank high enough for it. So, the journey may not be over for one or several of them after the state competition.
And as for the future, all four team members have plans. Cole’s goal is to become a physician, an obstetrician. Perelstein is interested in mechanical engineering, particularly “biomimicry,” or solving problems through evolutionary processes. Herrelko is still exploring, but he knows he wants to be an engineer of some sort. Slack is dedicated to becoming a neurosurgeon.
“We challenge one another and work to put our best foot forward as a team,” Perelstein said.
The iCREATE HS Bioscience program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Community partners include CCC, CAVIAT, NAU, TGen North, North Country HealthCare, Coconino County Public Health Services District, and Flagstaff STEM City.
Girls Take Center Stage at the Flagstaff All Girls Chess Championships
Guest Blog Post by William Cheney, Originally published in the Arizona Daily Sun
The 2017 All Girls City Chess Championships were held on Saturday, January 28, at Lowell Observatory. The tournament was moved one week after the scheduled date due to all of the snow Flagstaff received the weekend before. This was the third annual all-girls tournament and three sections were a USCF rated tournament, run by Northern Arizona Chess Center. This is the first year the event was hosted by Lowell Observatory and it attracted over 50 participants. Besides the K-3, K-5 and K-12 sections, there was also an unrated women’s section.
Lowell Observatory, STEM City, Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff Film Festival all hosted the event. In between rounds, students and families were able to explore the visitor’s center, look through telescopes and interact with the hands-on experiments at the site. They also met a female astronomer and heard her interesting presentation during the lunch time break. Dr. Deidre Hunter, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory, gave a presentation on women in science and her work with dwarf constellations. The Flagstaff Film Festival gave out two tickets to each of the first-place winners in each section. NAU gave out three scholarships to the first- through third-place winners in the K-12 section good for any STEM related field at NAU. Thank you to Provost Dan Kain for giving out the scholarships! Domino’s Pizza and Chick-Fil-A also contributed to the event.
The girls and their families really enjoyed the Spaceguard Academy at the Observatory!
In the K-12 section, the winners of the tournament were as follows: first place, Emma Tennyson, Phoenix area; second place, Mia Osmonbekov, Northland Preparatory Academy; third place, Barbara Senff, Blue Ridge High School. In the K-5 section, the city champ was Adrianna Long, 5th grade, Killip; second place went to Imola Seiben, 4th grade, BASIS Flagstaff; and third place went to Christian Begay, 4th grade Killip. In the K-3 section, first place was for Natasha Vasquez, second place went to Alexa Cardenas and third place was for Kayleigh Smith. All three girls are in third grade at Killip. The women were led by Lecretia Ashley. In second place was Sarah Martinet and third place went to Vicki Uthe.
Some of the top national and state girls in chess were at this tournament. In the 8-year-old USCF national all girls’ list was Natasha Vasquez, who is 91st in the nation and 6th in the state. In the 10-year-old group was Imola Sieben, who is 78th in the nation and first in the state. Also in the 10-year-old group is Adrianna Long, who is 93rd in the nation and second in the state. Emma Tennyson, who is 71st in the nation and first in the state, was there as well.
The 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament Champions!
Guest Blog post by Christine Sapio, CocoNuts Coach and CHS Educator
On December 3, 2016 the Coconino High School “CocoNuts” FIRST Robotics Competition Team hosted 400+ FIRST Robotics students at the 9th Annual High Altitude Robotics Extravaganza. The Extravaganza featured two FIRST events happening simultaneously at Coconino High School: The Flagstaff FIRST Lego League Qualifying Tournament and the Northern Arizona FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament. Thirty-six teams will compete in the two events.
The Flagstaff FIRST Lego League Qualifying Tournament featured 26 teams from Flagstaff, Kingman, Cottonwood, Heber, Holbrook, Phoenix, Camp Verde, Glendale, Cibecue and Sedona. The teams competed in this year’s challenge ANIMAL ALLIES for a chance to advance to the Arizona FIRST Lego League Championship January 14-15, 2017 at Arizona State University.
The ANIMAL ALLIES Challenge calls for teams of 9 to 14 year-old children worldwide to research and present their original ideas that explore the interactions between humans and animals. Teams will also build, test, and program an autonomous robot using LEGO® MINDSTORMS® technology to solve a series of wisdom-gathering missions which include: pushing a lever to open a door to learning, moving an idea outside of the box, loading a model with knowledge and skill loops, and more. The cornerstones of the experience are the FLL Core Values, which emphasize contributions of others, friendly competition, learning, and community involvement.
The Flagstaff FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifying Tournament featured 10 teams from Flagstaff, Laveen, Winslow, Buckeye, Gilbert, Heber, St. Michaels, Eager, and Joseph City. The teams are competed in this year’s challenge VELOCITY VORTEX. The teams were competing for a chance to advance to the Arizona/New Mexico Championship February 25, 2017 at Northern Arizona University.
The 2016-2017 Game: VELOCITY VORTEXSM presented by Qualcomm® is played on a 3.7m × 3.7m (12 ft. × 12 ft.) square field with approximately 0.3m (1 ft.) high walls and a soft foam mat floor. The field is divided diagonally into a “red” and a “blue” side corresponding to the two alliances. In the center of the field are two goals on a rotatable stand called the Center Vortex. Two ramps, each with a goal, called the Corner Vortex, are placed in opposite sides of the field. The Center Vortex Goals and Corner Vortexes are alliance specific. There are also four alliance neutral Beacons, two placed on each front wall next to the Corner Vortex. There are floor markings as well as Vision Targets placed on the field walls as reference points for robot navigation.
The top teams in the tournament were: FIRST Lego League Champion’s Award: FALA Llamabots, Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy, Flagstaff FIRST Tech Challenge Inspire Award: Navajo Code Writers, St. Michael’s Indian School, St. Michael’s FIRST Tech Challenge Winning Alliance: Mogollon Rim Jaegers (Mogollon High School in Heber) and elkSPLOSION (Round Valley High School in Eager)
Nine FIRST Lego League teams and three FIRST Tech Challenge Teams advanced to their respective Championship Tournaments.
By Dave Engelthaler, Associate Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Chair of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance. This column was adapted from the keynote speech, given by the author, at Science Foundation Arizona's "Giving a Voice to STEM" Conference at NAU on September 30, 2016.
I have often referred to Flagstaff as the Shining City on Arizona’s Hill. It is no accident that I borrow this phrase from the famous, precisely American, ideal of a “Shining City on a Hill”. The early pilgrims imagined that they could create such a community for themselves after escaping the historical norms of European controls on destiny.
Three hundred years later John F. Kennedy reminded of this founding ideal, stating that the world was watching our shining city and that we must live up to our promise; shortly there after, we embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time and put a man’s foot on the moon (Flagstaff had something to do with that, more on that below).
Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan again reminded us of this American City on a Hill ideal; and while we may not often remember Reagan as a champion of science, he was convinced during his tenure to not only not cut the budget of the National Science Foundation, but rather double it, before he left office. But, as under Kennedy and Reagan and other presidents in before and after, no matter what our economic and cultural condition, we have always led the way in advancing humanity through the sciences.
It is this ideal that convinces me that in Flagstaff, we are a Shining STEM City on Arizona’s Hill.
In August of 2012, a group of Flagstaff Leaders, Businessmen, Educators, Scientists, and Concerned Citizens gathered in the woods on the base of the San Francisco Peaks. This group coalesced around the idea that Flagstaff is a STEM-rich City and that we as a community, businesses and schools, elected leaders and CEOs, teachers and families, needed to collectively band together to bring this rich surrounding to bear on the education of our children and enrich our communities.
There, up on our Hillside, we all mutually pledged our time, talent and resources towards making the STEM City ideals happen. In short – our goal was to have the most STEM literate graduates living and working in a thriving STEM-based economy.
We also had a unofficial motto for the day: “Dare Mighty Things”, which we borrowed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who had, just the preceding night, coordinated the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars (and again, Flagstaff had something to do with this mission). And we both stole that from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Far better it is to dare mighty things” speech.
Historian, Fredrick Jackson Turner, just a few years before TR’s famous speech, gave us his “Frontier Thesis”, and proclaiming that with the end of the American Frontier, so might be the end the American spirit. While Jackson aptly, and controversially, linked Americanism and American spirit to the discovery and exploration of the American Frontier, I feel that he missed the mark in not understanding the new frontiers that we would identify and explore.
Our increased understanding and use of science and engineering opened up brand new frontiers, beyond land and sea.
One such Frontier, The Space Frontier, was no longer a pastoral landscape to watch from afar. Our STEM City has been at the forefront of the exploration of this new frontier, from the discovery of Pluto, to the training of Apollo astronauts in our backyard, to the camera control of the Mars Rover from our USGS facility, and now finally to the deep space explorations through our Discovery Channel telescope, providing insight into the beginnings of our universe and images of a frontier previously unseen.
Likewise, Flagstaff is home to TGen and the new Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at NAU, where some of the brightest minds are exploring another previously unseen universe – the microbiome. Every day, scientists in Flagstaff are embarking on the incredible journey into the human microbiome – the unseen ecosystem of bacteria and viruses and fungi that live on and in the human body. We are trying to understand how these microbes live, compete, collaborate and otherwise interact during our healthy and disease states. We, ourselves, our bodies, are the new frontier – and again that frontier exploration is here in our STEM City.
And we could go on about the new frontiers ventured by W.L.Gore engineers and SenesTech scientists and MNA paleontologists and Park Service geologists. The frontier is here in our STEM City and some of the greatest pioneers are the trainers of our next generation– the teachers and education professionals of our great public, charter and private schools. Most are ready, willing and able to interact with all of these resources; and some, like former STEM City Teacher of the Year Jillian Worssam, just kick down the door and say: “Let’s do this thing!”
Our STEM City is Worssam’s wildly successful Scientists in the Classroom. It is the Flagstaff Festival of Science (the longest running one in the country). We are the Coconuts; we are the Annual STEMMY'S Awards Ceremony; the STEM Art Competition; and the Super Bowl of STEM in the Dome event (where upwards of 8% of Flagstaff turns out!); we are the Space Station Science Experiment and the High Altitude Balloon Launches; and the superstar Killip Kindergarten Chess team that likes to challenge our Mayor. We are seventh-grade girls wearing lab coats inside a world-class research lab and we are a group of high schoolers rafting down our majestic Canyon to learn our geologic past. We are the Chamber Coding Camps. We are grad students teaching and learning in the K-12 classroom. We are parents, students and teachers on a hill having a star party. We are, in a phrase, America’s First STEM Community.
Arizona, and the rest of the country, is watching our shining STEM City
and we must live up to our promise.
Guest post by Lisa Winters, formerly of Arizona Game and Fish, and presently a STEM VISTA Member with the Grand Canyon Trust
The best ten days of the year, the Flagstaff Festival of Science, is in full swing. And this year, we had the first BioBlitz at Francis Short Pond! Organized by Rocky Mountain Research Station, Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, and Friends of the Rio de Flag, the BioBlitz was an opportunity for students, teachers, and the general public to work in collaboration with biologists, naturalists, and other scientists to complete a biological inventory of the plants, animals, and organisms that live in or near the pond.
Thanks to Lisa Winters, left, of Grand Canyon Trust, and Zack Zdinak, right, of Life Drawing and Education
Stations were set up around the pond that collected information about water quality, aquatic insects, birds, plants, and fish. Over 260 students from Marshall Elementary, Flagstaff Junior Academy, and Mount Elden Middle School measured the temperature and dissolved oxygen of the water, used microscopes to identify the aquatic invertebrates they caught, wandered the pond in search of common plants, used binoculars to spot ducks and red-winged blackbirds, fished for rainbow trout, and then pulled together what they learned by constructing a life cycle diagram of an organism of their choice. In the afternoon, many community members got the same chance to explore this unique ecosystem in their backyard while contributing to the survey data collection.
Photos show Alice patiently fishing, the excitement of the catch, and measuring for data prior to release!
Additional partners of the event include the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Section, The Museum of Northern Arizona, Grand Canyon Trust, local illustrator Zack Zdinak, and more! The event was made possible through a generous grant from the National Geographic Education Foundation and the AZ Game and Fish Heritage Grant. Thank you all for the great contributions to citizen science and education in Flagstaff!
Increasing the Number of Women in the STEM Workforce
A recent journal article in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) entitled “Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit”, by J. Ellis, B. Fosdick, and C. Rasmussen, had some fascinating information and conclusions:
In this study, the proportions of students who cited reasons for not entering Calculus II were comparable across men and women, except for one: “I do not believe I understand the ideas of Calculus I well enough to take Calculus II.”
This lack of confidence was cited by 35% of women, and only 14% of men, all of whom originally intended on pursuing a STEM career. Women switching from STEM pathways are citing a lack of understanding of the material in Calculus I as a reason for not continuing their STEM studies significantly more often than men.
An article by K. Piatek-Jimenez, “On the Persistence and Attrition of Women in Mathematics”, states that: “Confidence in mathematical ability may also be a possible reason why women do not choose to pursue mathematics. Women frequently report lower self-confidence in mathematics than their equally talented male peers. This trend is true even amongst the most mathematically talented students.”
Lack of confidence plagues women in other fields as well. "The Confidence Gap", by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, cite a number of studies. Hewlett-Packard found that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job; while men applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, started studying the problem of self-perception decades ago. “I would set up a test where I’d ask men and women how they thought they were going to do on a variety of tasks.” She found that the men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both, while the actual performances did not differ in quality. “It is one of the most consistent findings you can have.”
Margie Warrell, in a recent Forbes article, “For Women To Rise We Must Close 'The Confidence Gap' wrote: “…wherever I’ve worked in the world, I’ve consistently that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds women back." She cited an eight-year study by Wiebke Bleidorn that analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem”, and found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.
“Math for Girls, Math for Boys”, by A.K. Whitney in the Atlantic, stated that only one in ten contestants in the International Math Olympiad are female and many teams have no girls at all. Last year’s U.S. Team, which took gold for the first time in 21 years, was all male. Sherry Gong, who in 2007 was the second American girl in International Math Olympiad history to get the gold medal, recalled getting a pep talk during a competition from her coach. “I thought I was doing really badly, but ... she said girls tend to underestimate how well they are doing.”
What can we do to increase confidence and foster perseverance for all students to succeed in high-level mathematics and STEM studies?
Programs to increase confidence and persistence, as well as STEM skills, are growing in STEM City (aka Flagstaff). Highlighted programs include:
Girls on the Run (GOTR), celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has a primary goal of increasing self-confidence in young women. See this STEM City blog by Marney Babbitt on how you can participate.
Growth Mindset is being used by a number of teachers in Flagstaff including Elii Chapman, a math and science teacher at Flagstaff Junior Academy, and the runner up for the 2016 Coconino County Teacher of the Year. (Look up Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth to learn more.)
All-Girl Events/Competitions including all girls’ math or chess tournaments is another way to reduce the social issues that come with young women in competitive environments with young men. The Flagstaff Chess Club will hold its 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament in January, hosted by a strongly supportive Lowell Observatory staff, and including a lunchtime talk by a female astronomer. The Cactus-Pine Girl Scouts have held all girls engineering events, coding workshops, and after-school STEM activities for local students.
With Math I Can is being promoted by FUSD math specialist Jane Gaun, and others. This is a pledge we can all take to not make negative comments about mathematics!
INTEL Math and other math education courses are offered to local math teachers through FUSD and the Coconino County Educational Services Agency (CCESA).
Cash for Calculators is an initiative of FUSD and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses to purchase graphing calculators for schools so students can use them during the year and be more prepared for the exams that require these calculators.
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) has design challenges that encourage girls and all students to increase persistence, creativity, confidence, and more. The award-winning curricula from the Museum of Science Boston (MOS) is widely available in Flagstaff. FUSD has two EiE kits at each grade level in all ten elementary schools. Thanks to funding from the Arizona Community Fund of Flagstaff (ACFF), the CCESA has all 20 kits available for K-5 teachers in any school to check out after they have taken the free workshop on using the curricula. STEM City, with funding from ACFF, the W.L. Gore Foundation and the Ernest and Evelyn Chilson Fund, have four out-of-school time kits available to Girl Scout troops, STEM clubs, etc. The nationally-recognized Center for Science Teaching and Learning at NAU is working with Flagstaff's U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Center and the MOS to create three new engineering units with an astrogeology theme and cutting-edge science.
Ready.Set.Code is a Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce initiative working to increase computer and app coding skills in students. Scott Hathcock and cohorts at the Chamber launched Ready.Set.Code with both “Hack the Class”, and the “Summer of Code” events, after least year’s initial coding camps at College America were such a success.
Robotics Camps and Clubs are both growing in Flagstaff. The County Parks and Recreation Department held two lego robotics camps in June and has room available for their two upcoming camps the first week of August. The CocoNuts robotics team leads summer camps for students and has an upcoming camp for adults interested in coaching robotics. The camp is only $20 and is coming July 26 and 27th if you are interested! The Girl Scouts recently hosted a Video Game Design Workshop for 50 girls at NAU. Killip Elementary has a K-2 coding club, FJA has a middle school coding club, and we know that the many schools with robotics teams use coding to get those robots moving!
STEM City has held two free Code.org workshops with master teacher Janice Mak, and also freely loans out instruction materials. STEM City also has engineering kits, bioscience kits, and more, to freely loan out to teachers and home-school parents.
Coconino Community College now offers two engineering courses as well as advanced math and physics, and has an Engineering Pathways grant to increase engineering in middle schools, high schools and at CCC.
Northern Arizona University has a higher percentage of women in science and engineering than most colleges and universities (data coming soon)!
Please contact STEM City if you have programs you would like highlighted in a blog post or in the STEM Community e-letter. And thank you for all you do to increase both skills and confidence in our youth!
Thank you to Melissa Sevigny of KNAU and the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk for the interview on this article and inspiring this post!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator