International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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Credit: SciGirls, Twin Cities Public Television

The
road to becoming a scientist was a long one for me, despite my attraction to
science at an early age. I simply had no mentors to encourage my interest and,
in fact, was led to believe that science was not a career for women. That is
why, in honor of this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I want
to recognize some of the many NSF-funded programs that are encouraging young
women to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
fields.

Remaining
at the forefront of innovation means fully engaging our nation’s talent. That
is why I am passionate about NSF
INCLUDES
, one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas for Future Investment. NSF INCLUDES
seeks to broaden participation in STEM fields for all underrepresented and
underserved individuals. This initiative focuses on building alliances and
networks to create national solutions to this challenge.

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Credit: North Carolina Central University

NSF
INCLUDES is our newest broadening participation program, but NSF has for
decades worked to bring STEM education to everyone. Parents can find NSF-funded
programs that aim to stoke children’s interest in science, like SciGirls, which engages girls 9-13
in STEM. In each SciGirls episode, real girls work with mentors in STEM
professions to observe and record data about everything from birds to beaches,
monarchs to maple trees, and then share it with actual scientists for use in
research. I love how this teaches girls the power they have, even as children,
to make a difference in the world around them.

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Credit: John C. Williams, Humanoid Engineering & Intelligent Robotics (HEIR) Lab, Marquette University

NSF
also creates opportunities to give girls hands-on STEM experiences through our
support of Citizen Science, mentoring, museums, education and outreach by
research organizations. Just one example of these kinds of projects pairs
robotics researchers with middle-school students. This project, Co-Robots
for CompuGirls
, teaches girls to program humanoid robots. Not only do they
gain real-world experience in an expanding STEM field, but they learn about the
societal benefits researchers can achieve through science.

We
also work to encourage one of the most important attributes of any scientist:
imagination. Our Generation
Nano competition
challenges high school students to design new superheroes
who use the power of nanotechnology. Last year, three young women were among
our winners, and I can’t wait to see what contestants come up with this year.

I
have been inspired by science; it has made all the difference for me to learn
more about the natural world, to learn to tinker and finally build experiments
that look deeper and farther into the mysteries that abound. Every child should
have the opportunity to engage in STEM. I have made broadening
participation a priority in my time as director. I’m proud of the incredible
work of NSF staff, the researchers we support, and all who help address this
challenge.