“If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, we’ve got to open doors for everyone. We need all hands on deck, and that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
— First Lady Michelle Obama, September 26, 2011
While First Lady Obama is perhaps best known for her work to combat childhood obesity, her work to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for children (and especially for girls) has also been—thankfully—substantial and groundbreaking as well. Improved STEM education is one of the clearest paths to a better future for our world and our children as technological and scientific innovations in medicine, climate change, and energy grow more complex by the day.
STEM education is an investment in everyone’s future.
According to The Department of Commerce’s (2011) Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation, “though they represent a mere 24 percent of the STEM workforce, women earn on average 33 percent more when they work in these high-growth fields.” However, even with this boon for entering the STEM fields, and even though “women today currently earn 41% of PhD’s in STEM fields, [they] make up only 28% of tenure-track faculty
in those fields.”
Despite this inequality and despite the rampant sexism that is often reported by women studying and working in STEM fields, there are many significant positive steps being taken to encourage and promote more girls and young women to pursue the sciences in their education and careers.
For example, the Department of Education has recently created an “Invest in Innovation” fund that
“provides competitive grants to applicants with a record of improving student achievement. The program’s selection criteria prioritizes schools that support women and girls in STEM, emphasizing the need to increase the number of women and girls teaching and studying STEM subjects, and ensuring that both educators and students receive access to rigorous and engaging coursework, high-quality academic preparation, and opportunities for professional development.”
Moreover, NASA has recently gotten in on the game by teaming up with the Girl Scouts of the U.S. to develop a memorandum of understanding uniting the organizations “to achieve common goals: motivating and encouraging girls to do their best.” NASA was present at the Girl Scout’s annual convention and thus created an “opportunity for 17,000 leaders and girls to experience fun, hands-on NASA STEM activities….”
In other words, the government is trying to think outside the box for getting young girls more involved and interested in STEM today. But it’s not only the government that’s interested in mining this “new” vein of gold in the American mountain; clubs and organizations are popping up all over the place aimed at supporting young girls’ interests in STEM fields.
Take Kentucky Girls STEM Collaborative Project, for example. The Kentucky Girls Project, led by the University of Kentucky, is focused on “informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics…to build a strong, diverse workforce in Kentucky.” Many other states have similar collaboratives supported by various high education institutions including Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, Georgia, New Mexico, and others.
And even our local Texas schools like Lovejoy (Lucas, TX) have started including STEM courses in their elective rotation to support and deepen students’ interest and access to the sciences. Lovejoy now offers several agricultural elective courses to their ninth graders as well as an optional introductory course to design and robotics. Similarly, Ford Middle School (Allen, TX) has begun offering “Career Portals in STEM” as an elective course designed to introduce students to the careers of science and engineering. Of course, given that students begin engaging in the Science Fair as early as 6th grade (in TX) and that children of all ages are often naturally drawn to the splendor and wilds of science, these STEM courses and options ought to be made available to students much earlier.
If you’re a parent, mentor, or student looking to get yourself or someone close to you more involved in STEM fields, here are a few terrific ideas and resources to consider:
- Parents should Get Involved! Take an interest in a science field for yourself like astronomy or botany—any child is bound to love gazing through a telescope and learning about the constellations with you, or in helping to grow the very vegetables that they’ll one day get to cook and share with others.
- Parents should also demand that their child’s school provide more STEM courses for more age groups (petitioning the school and promoting increased diversity of course offerings can be some of the most useful work a parent can do for a child’s education and college prospects).
- Check out: Science Club for Girls, which runs programs like The STEMinistas (grades 6-8) and Show Me the Science (K-6).
- Look into: The Sally Ride Science Programs, Festivals, and Camps
- For our sisters and our daughters: The National Girls Collaborative Project
- For role models: Society for Women Engineers
- Also, parents, be sure to check out PBS’ great quick tips for Encouraging Girls in STEM. You can also look to the White House website for more information on current events and news related to women in STEM programs and efforts.
Interested in the possibility/option of dual-language schooling for your children/students? Check out this terrific blog post regarding some of Houston ISD’s latest efforts.
Tutoring 101–like any good teaching and tutoring agency–has always understood the importance and promoted the learning of new languages for its students (hence why we keep tutors on staff who specialize in foreign languages). Learning a new language isn’t just about being able to better communicate with others in an increasingly more globalized world, but about learning how to see and think about things in new ways, how to better empathize and connect with others, and how to better appreciate the vast diversity of our world.
According to Duke University’s “Cognitive Benefits of Learning Languages,”
“Foreign language programs are often one of the first items to be scrutinized and cut when elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S. face poor performance evaluations or budget crunches. However, many studies have demonstrated the benefits of second language learning not only on student’s linguistic abilities but on their cognitive and creative abilities as well.”
What’s more, in Ellen Bialystok’s 2011 article “Reshaping the Mind: The Benefits of Bilingualism,” published in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, Bialystok explains that: “Studies have shown that bilingual individuals consistently outperform their monolingual counterparts on tasks involving executive control,” and that there is even evidence that bilingualism can have a “protective effect…against Alzheimer’s disease….”
In other words, bilingualism and the learning of new languages carry benefits that may be as immediate as improved academic performance, but that may also be as long-reaching as helping people’s brains to simply keep healthier into their old age. And the evidence and consensus concerning these bi/multilingual benefits only continues to mount and show up in more and more publications. According to Anne Merritt (an EFL lecturer serving in South Korea) of The Telegraph, bilingualism and multilingualism can also help students improve their memory, strengthen their multitasking skills, and, for native English speakers, can even improve their English.
So, the question we ought to be asking ourselves isn’t: Why should I or my children/students learn new languages? But: Why not?
Just a teaser from the larger article:
“Like school systems across the nation, several local districts — including Houston, Alief, Clear Creek, Pasadena and Spring Branch — have expanded dual-language programs, as more parents want their children to grow up bilingual and studies generally show positive academic results.
Still, districts can face a series of challenges in starting such programs, including persuading anxious parents, recruiting enough bilingual teachers and ensuring effective instruction at a time when young children are ripe for learning languages but at risk of sliding behind their peers.”
Next, the kindergartner, Isabelle Kao, plotted 15 dominoes.
“Cual es más largo?” (which is longer?) her teacher, Graciela Martinez, asked. She gave the girl a hint, extending her arms wide.
Isabelle pointed correctly to the longer line — the sticks.
Martinez’s class at Mark Twain Elementary in southwest Houston is one of a growing number of two-way dual-language classrooms, where native English speakers like Isabelle and native Spanish speakers learn together.
Like school systems across the nation, several local districts — including Houston, Alief, Clear Creek, Pasadena and Spring Branch — have expanded dual-language programs, as more parents want their children to grow up bilingual and studies generally show positive academic results.
Still, districts can face…
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Tanya Donaghey is the proud owner of Tutoring 101. She opened the business 1997 when she developed the programming for PreK-12th grade and SAT/ACT prep programs. She received her BS in Education from Baylor University in 1988 and her Master’s Degree from SMU in 1995. Her background in education is extensive: She has taught in the high school Gifted and Talented Program and various International Baccalaureate classes; taught the subjects of Government, Economics, World History, and American History; worked as Associate Director for a national company at three DFW tutoring centers; has written and published numerous articles; and has been asked to speak at many seminars and conferences including The Texas Association of Gifted and Talented State Conference.
And now she’s here to kick-start our newest blog series: College Visits, beginning with one to the University of Arkansas.
Q: So, Ms. Donaghey, what made you pick the University of Arkansas as our first stop on the College Visit series?
My interest in the University of Arkansas (located in the picturesque spot of Fayetteville, AR) was first piqued when I read an article in a national magazine about the university and its incredible investment of over $1 billion in recent years. Of course, I was well aware of the University of Arkansas long before this article as many members of my church and several of my neighbors have sent children there over the years (not to mention the many students I’ve tutored who now attend school there). But it was the visit I paid to the University of Arkansas that made the biggest impact on me, and which most convinced me that it deserved the spotlight as the first university discussed in our College Visit series.
I have a unique perspective on the subject of higher education as I have been preparing students for the SAT and ACT as a professional tutor for many years now–higher ed, in other words, is a major component of my business. And now I am looking at the college application process from a personal perspective as my husband and I help our daughter look for the best college for her.
I am passionate as a mom and as a college prep professional about helping students find a calling and then pursue knowledge and research in their chosen field. College, in my opinion, is not about completing a series of unrelated courses, but about becoming educated with the goal of being well-prepared to enter a profession that you enjoy and in which you can make a difference. Thus, we engaged several U of Arkansas students in lengthy conversations during our visit to learn if their university was helping them to do just that. The students we met there were intelligent, involved, and–perhaps most importantly–completely aware of their strengths and of what paths they could (and should) take to become successful graduates. Two of the students we met with had elaborately worked out plans for a Plan A major and Plan B major (after all, medical school/law school may not be for everyone, and these students had very ambitious plans for their Plan B majors as well). The wisdom, planning, and foresight these students learned at the University of Arkansas greatly impressed me.
Q: So, a beautiful campus, motivated students, and an exciting new billion dollar investment! Seems like the University of Arkansas hits a lot of the big buttons on many high school graduates’ wish lists. You mentioned that you have unique requirements that you expect colleges to meet. Would you share those requirements with us? I know a lot of parents out there would be grateful for such a checklist as they begin the process of visiting colleges with their own children.
Of course! My requirements are simple enough but are often some of the hardest to find met in total:
- A successful job placement track record and tools for university grads
- An environment that is friendly and supportive to students
- A motivated and studious student body and culture
- A healthy number and variety of extracurricular clubs, teams, and opportunities for students to join
- Local and on-campus employment opportunities
- Engaged and well-respected professors
- (And, of course, a gorgeous campus is always a plus!)
Q: You also mentioned that you were able to spend some quality time speaking with University of Arkansas students about their college experiences thus far. Could you share some of their stand-out details and pointers about UofA?
Gladly. There was one particularly well-spoken student we met with who was on a pre-med route (Plan A). He had a Plan B, however, just in case his feelings or interests changed during his time at college (which happens plenty often!), that would still incorporate his work to-date yet give him a new set of challenges and skills to build up: should pre-med not work out as anticipated, he would get involved instead in medical sales and development. What’s more, as we discussed his plans in greater detail, I learned that he even knew the names of the companies he could and was most interested in working for should he decide to follow his alternative route. His built-in flexibility and acceptance of life’s ability to change at the drop of a hat greatly impressed me–these are lessons and preparations I want and seek to instill in my own children and students.
Q: You also mentioned that a lot of the students you tutor through Tutoring 101 end up attending the University of Arkansas. Have you ever received any feedback from these tutees on UofA or explanation for why they chose it over other schools?
There are a lot of reasons so many of my students choose University of Arkansas. Besides being a well-respected school with an attractive proximity to Texas (to home, in other words), U of A also offers a very attractive tuition discount to Texas students who achieve certain scores on the SAT/ACT. What’s more, many Texas universities have lately been focusing on admitting only those from the top 7-10% of students in high schools. This means that the other 90%, many of whom are incredibly intelligent, have to go looking out of state for comparable college opportunities.
Q: And, finally, as a tutoring professional, you obviously have a very interesting and unique perspective on college preparedness. What kind of tutoring and study regimen might you recommend for any high school students who are interested in one day becoming UofA graduates?
- Take rigorous classes throughout high school so that you will be prepared for the demands of college courses
- Enroll in AP and IB courses whenever you can (and according to your needs/abilities)
- Take electives that are educational and that build up a variety of skills
- Study toward and achieve your best possible SAT/ACT scores to qualify for the best level of in-state tuition benefits
- Explore what majors and career paths intersect with your passions
- And, if you’re in the area or are interested in distance tutoring, you can always get extra help and tutoring from Tutoring 101!