Houston voices

Houston innovators: Mentoring women in STEM should be your new year's resolution

It's time to devote more attention and focus on closing the gender gap in STEM, according to this University of Houston expert. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Researchers and scientists can give girls a ‘leg up’.

According to Allison Master, assistant professor of psychological, health and learning sciences at the University of Houston: “Stereotypes that STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is for boys begin in grade school, and by the time they reach high school, many girls have made their decision not to pursue degrees in computer science and engineering because they feel they don’t belong.”

Stats for STEM

The statistics are not encouraging. According to the U.S. Census: “Women made gains – from 8 percent of STEM workers in 1970 to 27 percent in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52 percent of all U.S. workers but 73 percent of all STEM workers.”

“But there are huge disparities between STEM fields in the representation of women,” said Master, whose new paper looks at the emergence of gender gaps among children and adolescents. “Fields like computer science (25 percent of computer jobs are held by women) and engineering (15 percent of engineering jobs are held by women) have some of the lowest percentages of women among STEM fields. On the other hand, women are overrepresented in health fields (74 percent of health-related jobs are held by women).”

Her research specifically looked at computer science and engineering fields. “We wanted to gain a better understanding of why there is such wide variation among STEM fields, and what we can do earlier in the pipeline to encourage more young girls to enter these fields.”

Off to an unfortunate start

“We find that children start to believe that boys are more interested than girls in engineering by age six (first grade), and that children start to believe that boys are more interested than girls in computer science by age eight (third grade). The more that young girls believe those stereotypes, the less interested they are in those fields,” said Master. “If girls believe they won’t belong in fields like computer science and engineering because those are fields ‘for boys,’ then they may miss out on opportunities to try those kinds of activities.”

Master decided to conduct a study on stereotyping gender roles.

“In one study, we told eight and nine year-old children about two computer science activities. When we told them that ‘girls are much less interested than boys’ in one of the activities, we found that girls became much less interested and less willing to try that activity (compared to another activity for which we told them ‘girls and boys are equally interested.’) These stereotypes can shape that choices that young girls make, opening or closing doors to different career pathways,” said Master.

Narrowing the gender gap

How do we turn this around? Mentoring elementary-age students is one way we can increase the percentage of girls who are ushered into STEM fields.

Stem Like a Girl is an initiative that aims to encourage young women to enter the STEM fields. Their website states: “We believe girls need to see strong women in STEM fields to feel supported in pursuing their own science and engineering interests.” An IBM initiative in India has a similar aim. There are lots of terrific organizations working to connect women in STEM as role models for younger girls (e.g., Society of Women Engineers, Black Girls Code, National Girls Collaborative Project, etc.),” Master adds.

Many higher education institutions hold STEM camps for girls exclusively. For instance, University of California-Davis has a program called STEM For Girls – which boasts a student demographic of 79 percent ethnic minorities. The University of Houston Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute holds a summer camp each year called the Middle School Girls Coding Academy. This program is focused on middle school girls (rising 6th–8th graders) who learn Scratch, HTML, Game Design, and Python programming. The Academy runs another camp for high school-aged girls.

The big idea

It’s January – time for New Year’s resolutions. How about becoming a mentor or volunteering to give a presentation or teach a camp for young girls in STEM? Master goes on to say that even men in STEM should mentor young women.

“Role models are important because they help girls believe, ‘People like me can succeed,’ and ‘People like me belong here.’ But the most important thing that all role models can do (women and men, because men can also be very effective role models for girls in STEM) is to be relatable and make their work seem interesting and meaningful,” Master says.

So, does your institution have a program in robotics or coding just for girls? Or if you feel like you could benefit from a mentorship program yourself, you can apply at organizations like Harvard Women In Technology +. Harvard WIT+ helps to connect women early in their STEM careers with seasoned mentors.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Proxima Clinical Research has announced an office expansion — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Twitter

Houston's innovation ecosystem has had some big news this month, from new job titles for Houston innovators to expanding office space.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston organization expands its footprint in the TMC, Rice University opens applications for a cleantech accelerator, and more.

Organization expands footprint in Houston

Proxima CRO has announced its expansion within TMCi. Photo via Twitter

Proxima Clinical Research, a contract research organization headquartered in Houston, announced that it is expanding its office space in the Texas Medical Center Innovation Factory.

"Texas Medical Center is synonymous with innovation, and the TMC Innovation space has proven an ideal location for our CRO. It's an important part of our origin story and a big part of our success," says Kevin Coker, CEO and co-founder of Proxima CRO, in a news release.

The expansion will include around 7,500-square feet of additional office space.

"The resources found across TMC's campuses allow for companies such as Proxima Clinical Research to achieve clinical and business milestones that will continue to shape the future of life sciences both regionally and globally. We are excited for Proxima to expand their footprint at TMC Innovation Factory as they further services for their MedTech customers," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in the release.

$20M grant fuels hardtech program's expansion

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Activate.org

A hardtech-focused nonprofit officially announced its Houston expansion this week. Activate, which InnovationMap reported was setting up its fifth program here last month, received a $20M commitment by the National Science Foundation to fuel its entrance into the Bayou City.

“Houston’s diversity offers great promise in expanding access for the next generation of science entrepreneurs and as a center of innovation for advanced energy," says NSF SBIR/STTR program director Ben Schrag in a news release.

The organization was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

“We are delighted to be opening our newest Activate community in Houston,” says Activate Anywhere managing director Hannah Murnen, speaking at the annual Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Innovation Summit. “Houston is a city where innovation thrives, with an abundance of talent, capital, and infrastructure—the perfect setting for the Activate Fellowship.”

Activate is still looking its Houston’s first managing director is actively underway and will select fellows for Activate Houston in 2024.

TMC names new entrepreneur in residence

Zaffer Syed has assumed a new role at TMC. Photo via TMC.org

Houston health tech innovator has announced that he has joined the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory as entrepreneur in residence for medtech. Zaffer Syed assumed the new role this month, according to his LinkedIn, and he's been an adviser for the organization since 2017.

Syed has held a few leadership roles at Saranas Inc., a medical device company founded in Houston to detect internal bleeding following medical procedures. He now serves as adviser for the company.

"As CEO of Saranas, he led the recapitalization of the company that led to the FDA De Novo classification and commercial launch of a novel real-time internal bleed monitoring system for endovascular procedures," reads the TMC website. "Zaffer oversaw clinical development, regulatory affairs and strategic marketing at OrthoAccel Technologies, a private dental device startup focused on accelerating tooth movement in patients undergoing orthodontic treatment.

"Prior to working in startup ventures, Zaffer spent the first 13 years of his career in various operational roles at St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific to support the development and commercialization of Class III implantable devices for cardiovascular and neuromodulation applications."

TMC is currently looking for an entrepreneur in residence for its TMCi Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics program.

Applications open for clean energy startup program

Calling all clean energy startups. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Clean Energy Accelerator, an energy transition accelerator housed at the Ion and run by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has opened applications for Class 3. The deadline to apply is April 14.

The accelerator, which helps early-stage ventures reach technical and commercial milestones through hybrid programming and mentorship, will host its Class 3 cohort from July 25 to Sept. 22.

“Accelerating the transition to a net-zero future is a key goal at Rice University. Through accelerating the commercial potential of our own research as well as supporting the further adoption of global technologies right here in Houston, the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is proof of that commitment,” says Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice, in a news release. “The Rice Alliance has all the critical components early-stage energy ventures need for success: a corporate innovation network, energy investor network, access to mentors and a well-developed curriculum. This accelerator program is a unique opportunity for energy startups to successfully launch and build their ventures and get access to the Houston energy ecosystem.”

According to Rice, the 29 alumni companies from Class 1 and 2 have gone on to secure grants, partnerships, and investments, including more than $75 million in funding. Companies can apply here, learn more about the accelerator here or attend the virtual information session April 3 by registering here.

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