Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Games We Play

Keeping with the #InspireHerMind movement, I decided to do a little of my own research on how girls get involved in STEM.  Being busy, and not having any funds for this, I decided to look into the toys that are on the market today.  Think about it.  What influences our interests and molds who we become?  Yes, a lot of it is our parents, but we develop our own personalities as we play and learn.  I thought back to my own childhood.  I had a plethora of Barbies (really what girl doesn't?).  I think between my sister and I we had about 70.  But we also had Legos and Tinker Toys.  We used to build rockets and send the little Lego people to the moon.  We built houses and swing sets out of Tinker Toys.  I learned history from "Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego" and math from "Clue Finders".  Now I'm not saying that these toys got me into MIT, that would be wildly stupid.  But I do think these toys set the base for me to become interested in science and problem solving.
The best way I could think to look into this further was to look at the top 500 best selling toys on the Toys R Us website.  I started in the "Girls"section and looked at toys for ages 5 and up.  I then sorted and counted them into categories.  The categories were: Generic Blocks (not obviously marketed to either gender), Girl Blocks (such as princess themed), Art Supplies, Educational (science kits, flash cards and learning games), Tools (like fake tool sets or equipment), Domestic (fake kitchens, houses etc), and Beauty (jewelry, makeup etc).  The boys toys were sorted into the same categories.
What I found surprised me.  The overwhelming majority of the top 500 toys were art supplies in both categories.  These were things like easels, chalk, paints, coloring books.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see that kids were being creative.  Art supplies made up over 50% of the toys in both categories.

With art taking up about the same percent in each category, I decided to take it out and see how the ther categories sized up in comparison.
This is where I saw what I expected.

Kind of an eye opener, right?  Well over half of the boys' toys are educational, while under half are in the girls'category.  Additionally I say no generic blocks in the top 500 girl toys.  Every set of blocks was Disney Princess themed with pre-built castles.  There was zero ingenuity involved in the girls' building sets.  The only "tool" I saw in the girls' category was a fake lawn mower for very young children.  The boys had fake drills, hammers, work benches.  Early on we are sending a message that boys are the ones who build things.  Most of the girl toys are beauty or domestic related.  What kind of message is that sending?
Don't get me wrong.  I loved playing with fake food and right now my hobbies are crocheting and baking.  But shouldn't we show young girls that they're capable of more things that housekeeping and looking good? 
 Maybe we should tell them that they're pretty, and pretty smart.  
When you work on something, you generally start from the bottom up.  I think the same goes for getting girls involved in STEM.  If we can capture the interest of young girls and maintain it, then there wouldn't be such a gender gap in these fields.

What do you think?  #InspireHerMind

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Involving More Women in STEM

As you can tell by my enrollment and major, I am a huge proponent of involving people, especially young women in STEM fields.  My mom recently sent me this video about how Verizon and MAKERS are launching a campaign to get more girls interested in these fields.  I would love to do my part by involving Bottom of the Top.

So what is STEM?  STEM is an acronym for "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics".  It's a blanket term, but pretty self explanatory.  As a whole, these areas are vital to our economies and welfare.  Students in these fields go on to become doctors, engineers that build safer infrastructure, cleaner energy and even vaccines and medications we need. Again, extremely important for our survival and growth as a society.  However, according to the #InspireHerMind campaign, women hold less than 25% of the STEM jobs in the US.
I was fortunate to have grown up with my dad, a chemical engineer.  He helped me understand what engineers do and he pushed me to pursue all that I was capable of.  It is because of this inspiration and countless mentors throughout the years that it was even remotely possible for me to study at MIT.

Join me over the next couple weeks in helping inspire young women to learn and pursue STEM jobs.
I'll be sharing some of my research and stories from myself and friends.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mackenzie Guest Post! Greetings from Sydney

My good friend Mackenzie has been in Sydney all summer and I miss her terribly.  The best way to bring a little of her back to Cambridge is through a guest post.  Here's a little insight from the world's newest Aussie/ misplaced MIT girl.

I've been spending my summer in Sydney, Australia thanks to MIT’s International Science and 
Technology Initiatives program (MISTI). I’m in a lab at the University of New South Wales looking into 
catalysts for hydrogen gas production. If you see my name in the newspapers when we solve the energy 
crisis, you're welcome. I chose to come to Sydney because of my dad. He was born and raised in the 
northern beaches of the city. His mom, sisters, and their families are still here. 
I've been to Sydney numerous times, but this is my first time truly being on my own. I’m in my 
own apartment, paying my own rent, buying my own groceries, the whole show. Finally feeling like a 
real adult, and not just a college student, has been great. I have time to explore a city I love, meet new 
people, actually exercise for fun, and cook real food that takes more than 10 minutes to prepare. 
There’s a life outside the bubble of school and it’s glorious. But, one of the other things they tell you 
about being on your own is also true. Being so far away and on completely different time zones from 
every single one of my friends has been extremely hard for me.
If you read my last guest post, you know that the people around me at MIT have become like a 
second family. That circle only grew my second semester. I've formed friendships there that I know will 
last the test of time. Being molded in the pressure cooker that is MIT makes your friendships like that. 
You suffer some of the hardest mental and emotional trials any school can throw together, and you 
create some damn strong bonds because of it. On the flipside, I've also got a fair number of friends 
from my hometown in Montana that I've known since before we could read. We've seen each other in 
all our gangly, braces-filled, pimply adolescence, and we still keep in touch about our lives today. 
Granted, it’s extremely hard to do that being a whole country away, but we do it. These friendships 
mean everything to me. I’d do anything for any one of my friends, and I hope they all know that. 
Sydney has just shown me how important these relationships really are.
When your parents tell you that you'll have to work to keep friendships alive after you go out on 
your separate paths, they're not lying. I had heard mine say this countless times, but never really 
believed them. I was inseparable from my friends, regardless of where we were! I thought that the fact 
I still kept in touch with people from Montana just proved that fact. Well, try being on a day and night 
time zone difference. Mom and Dad, you were right. I've given up sleeping time (beyond valuable to 
any college student in the summer) to message people. Skyping has become my lifeline. Don't get me 
wrong, I’m making great new friends here in Sydney, but you can’t replace what your old friends have 
done for you. 
So, I guess the moral of this story is that your friendships are everything. Yes, it does take work 
to maintain them. Yes, you won’t talk to people for weeks that you used to see every day. But when 
you find people that are worth it, you have to kick in that effort. I've never appreciated the people I love 
more than I do now. Go call someone you haven’t talked to in a while. I’m sure they'll love it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Working Girl Blues

I was getting hesitant to write this post, because I talk a huge game about my looks.  Now I'm not saying I'm hot stuff like a model, just saying I care about how I look and usually make an effort to try at least a little.  However, working in an office full of men has taken it's toll.  With the 90deg heat, a bike commute, and lab full of dudes, I've stopped wearing makeup.
Gasp, I know right?
This is a huge step for me because I've always been a little self-conscious of my face (what girl isn't?)  I was pretty convinced that every time I walked into the lab people were staring at my face and judging me pretty hard core.  Then I realized that guys don't notice makeup, they treated me exactly the same with a bare face.  They even keep staring at me and wolf whistling when I walk by, so I must be doing something ok.
It's felt a little empowering to not have to wear makeup to work everyday in this heat.  My pores are thanking me and I'm having a little more time to relax before I head out the door.

Here are my bags, acne, nasty hair and all my non-photoshopped glory.  I'm not ashamed I'm human and hopefully you won't be bothered to put up untouched photos of yourselves.
The heat has definitely been getting to me, but it has been nice to not worry about my face.

How big a priority is this for everyone else?