Off Campus

STEM girls branch out

Representing the school as an official organization for the first time, seven members of the Girls Advancing in STEM (GAINS) club traveled with Faculty Advisor Jennifer Long and Science Teacher Amanda Borking to Stanford University for the third annual GAINS Conference.

This year’s event, held from April 2 to April 4, aimed to provide around 120 high school girls with an opportunity to learn about STEM-related careers from women excelling in STEM professions, according to the conference’s website. While the two previous GAINS conferences focused more on biological sciences, this conference mainly explored physics, computer science, and engineering, Dr. Long said.

Over the course of two days, the group of sophomores and juniors attended various presentations led by graduate students, professors, and professionals in different STEM fields. Each presenter discussed and answered student questions about topics ranging from mechanical engineering and neuroscience to her own experience as a woman in STEM. After listening to panelists and individual speakers in the morning and early afternoon, all students toured Facebook’s headquarters on the first day and visited either Tesla’s headquarters or the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) on the second.

GAINS Co-President Ali Plump ’18 said she particularly enjoyed visiting Facebook, listening to guest speakers, and eating at Creamistry, a restaurant that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze its ice cream. She added that she appreciated hearing the panelists talk about their personal experiences.

“It really gave us the chance to relate, which can be kind of difficult to find when you’re a girl who loves science or math because it’s not as common to see women scientists or mathematicians as it is to see men doing those jobs,” Ali said.  

Elisa Tabor ’18 called her tours of SLAC’s two-mile-long particle accelerator and 3D Visualization Lab the highlights of her trip and said seeing how many women have followed their passions in STEM with incredible success was inspiring.

“The conference gave me a lot of ideas about professions that I would want to do later in life,” Elisa said. “It made me realize that there are so many exciting careers in the sciences that I would love to pursue and that I don’t have to choose my exact path until after college.”

Since she first attended the conference in 2015, Dr. Long has considered it an invaluable resource to students interested in pursuing careers in STEM.

“[The conference] is an opportunity for BB&N students to interact with young women from across the country,” Dr. Long said. “Students from a variety of backgrounds and types of schools meet each other and have the chance to learn about each other’s interests, goals, and experiences.”

Thanks to her positive experiences at past conferences, Dr. Long decided to join the GAINS Network, a virtual community  connecting girls and women interested in STEM At the beginning of this academic year, she created the school’s GAINS club as a way of supporting young women interested in STEM at BB&N, she said.

“Although the gender gap [in STEM fields] is closing slowly, women remain underrepresented across STEM fields,” she said. “I think this is for a number of reasons, but as an educator, I feel that encouraging young women’s interests in STEM early in their education often builds their confidence and exposure to the myriad possibilities that lie ahead.”

After announcing the trip to club members over email, Dr. Long randomly selected five girls from the pool of those interested, reserving two spots for the club’s co-presidents. While the selection was mostly random, preference went to those who had attended the majority of the club’s meetings, Dr. Long said.

Along with Dr. Long, GAINS Co-President Lily Druker ’18 found Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives at Stanford Margot Gerritsen’s opening speech particularly inspiring.

“Margot made it clear that we won’t get to point B from point A the way we imagine we will,” Lily said. “She advised us to apply to everything. She applied for a Ph.D. at Stanford the night before it was due because someone told her to. Her application essay said something like ‘I really want to get a Ph.D.’ That was it, but she still was accepted into the program because they thought she would be successful.”

Sophie Collins Arroyo ’19 said her favorite part of the trip was visiting a Virtual Reality Lab at the university, where she simulated a flight around a city.

“As I flew higher, the sounds of wind would get would get louder and louder. At one point, someone tried an earthquake simulation and the entire floor shook! It was my first experience with Virtual Reality, and it’s something I’ll remember for a long time to come,” Sophie said.

While she enjoyed meeting adults in STEM fields, Lauren Yun ’19 said mingling with girls from other schools and discussing shared interests and challenges were also gratifying.

“I have felt that being a girl would maybe put me at a disadvantage, especially in STEM, and this conference gave me confidence and more tools to pursue this type of career,” she said. “Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of finding mentors and making connections with our peers, and the conference definitely gave us a chance to do so.”


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