Hartford, Connecticut, March 9, 2016 – Around 130 middle school girls and their mothers, fathers, grandparents, and Girl Scout troop leaders gathered recently in the Washington Room of Trinity College’s Mather Hall for the Tech Savvy Conference. The daylong career conference is designed to attract girls from sixth to ninth grade to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Tech Savvy is put on by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which works to make advances on equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.
Organized by Trinity alumna and AAUW CT Co-President Donna Haghighat ’89 and Alison Draper, director of Trinity’s Science Center and lecturer in interdisciplinary science, the day was packed full of activities. Early on the morning of Saturday, February 27, the program kicked off with a welcoming speech given by Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity College president and professor of neuroscience.
“Earlier in my professional career, I was a professor of neuroscience, and to this day, I tell people that there is nothing I love more than spending time with students in a lab,” Berger-Sweeney said. “I mention this to you not just to tell my own story, but also to convey to you the excitement of neuroscience and all the disciplines in STEM. The work can be very fulfilling. You will have the opportunity to work with wonderful people. And the work you do can change the world.”
The workshops offered during the Tech Savvy Conference were run by professors, entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers. The workshops had enticing titles such as “Build a Hovercraft,” “First LEGO Robotics,” “Leg Savvy,” and “Take Water Apart.” While the girls built models, dissected chicken legs, and drew diagrams, the parents attended programs including “How to Raise a Math-Confident Daughter,” “Preparing your Daughter for College,” and “Student STEM Panel.”
In addition to the numerous volunteers from the AAUW, Tech Savvy was filled with 44 student volunteers from Trinity’s STEM majors. Student volunteer coordinator Allison Tierney ’17 from Tewksbury, Mass., is majoring in biochemistry. “I was fortunate as a child to have people and programs that exposed me to STEM and opportunities I could have as a female in a scientific field,” Tierney said. “Because of my positive experience with STEM, I would like to create the same positive experience for others, especially young girls who desire nothing more than for someone to be proud of them.”
This was not Tierney’s first time volunteering for Tech Savvy. “I saw many girls this year that I had seen last year,” she said. “Many of the girls in the program were from Hartford and surrounding areas. This is the side of Hartford I yearn for people to see: young people coming together to build a community based on intellectual cohesiveness.”
Another Trinity student volunteer, Tommy Hum-Hyder ’17, a neuroscience major from Hanover, N.H., said, “It’s important to get women interested in STEM starting at a young age to encourage a passion for scientific discovery when they grow older and start thinking about their potential careers. The activities in the Tech Savvy program provide fun ways of exploring science through a variety of different lenses that emphasizes the breadth of exploration one can have with a background in a STEM field.”
After all of the exciting experiments, but before the raffle of math games and science puzzles, the keynote speaker addressed the crowd. Special guest Trinity alumna Melissa Blake ’11, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and a minor in studio arts, is currently a pediatric dental resident at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine. In her talk, Blake reflected on her father’s struggles of growing up in Jamaica, where education was his way of escaping from poverty. Blake herself, who grew up in inner-city Boston, used her father’s story as the drive for her to work hard and learn everything she could.
“Discovering our passions is not a straight and narrow path,” Blake told the girls. She admitted that there were times when she was tired, discouraged, and frustrated, but she said it was all worth it when she was able to give a girl her smile back while doing service work for Project Tooth Fairy.
Created in 2006 by Tamara Brown, former president of the Buffalo, New York, branch of the AAUW, Tech Savvy has since served more than 3,500 girls. According to an exit survey, 70 percent of girls who attended Tech Savvy said that they plan to take advanced science and math classes in high school.
Connecticut’s Tech Savvy program is funded in part by AAUW, AAUW CT, NASA CT Space Grant, the Petit Family Foundation, Praxair, and the generosity of individual local donors.
Written by Ursula Paige Granirer ’17