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Encouraging young girls’ interest in STEM fields is a passion for this avid gardener
Story by David J. Hill; photos by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
Jule Carr will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. If it weren’t for a program created at UB nine years ago by Tamara Brown, Carr might not have chosen to pursue a career in a field that lacks women.
Carr’s is one of many success stories enabled by Tech Savvy, the program Brown developed in 2004 to expose middle school-aged girls to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM—fields.
Brown started Tech Savvy in response to an American Association of University Women (AAUW) research report, which showed that an alarming number of young girls avoid STEM careers.
Tech Savvy changes that by showing girls the fun, relevant side of STEM, while mentoring and supporting their aspirations and providing guidance on the educational requirements necessary for a STEM career. The program is hosted and co-sponsored by UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, from which Brown received her ME degree in 2003. (Tech Savvy’s conference was held at UB March 16.) Perhaps it’s fitting that one of Brown’s hobbies— gardening—involves the art of growing and cultivating, something she’s done for countless girls’ interest in STEM careers.
A native of Vicksburg, Miss., Brown came to Western New York in 1994 to take a job at an Orchard Park medical company. A few years later, she began working at Praxair, a Fortune 300 company with a facility in the Town of Tonawanda. In January 2012, she was promoted to leader of community engagement and now works at Praxair’s world headquarters in Danbury, Conn.
Brown wanted to go to college to be a psychologist, but her mother steered her toward engineering, thinking that it would offer better career opportunities. She dual majored in biomedical and chemical engineering at Vanderbilt University, the first woman to do so at the school, and received her BS in 1993.
Many girls have a similar experience to Brown’s when contemplating their future career: They seek out what they know. “I have a friend in AAUW who says to kids in her class, ‘You can’t be it if you don’t see it,’ and I think that that’s true. You typically gravitate toward what you see in your everyday life or what you can envision yourself being,” Brown says.
Each year, Tech Savvy’s workshops—which run the A to Z gamut with topics ranging from anthropology to zoology—help young girls see what they can do in a STEM field. “Seeing professional women with prestigious achievements—that was the lasting impression. It showed me that there are other women in these fields and that girls should not be deterred from entering STEM fields,” says Carr.
Last year, Brown expanded Tech Savvy to include 10th- to 12th-grade girls with an eye toward preparing them for college. Tech Savvy has become so successful that Brown and AAUW are planning 10 new Tech Savvy sites within the next year and a half. Brown will continue to lead the program, which receives funding from the Praxair Foundation.
In 2011, Brown was honored by the White House as one of 12 “Champions of Change” for her efforts in exposing young girls to STEM careers. The personal recognition was nice, Brown says, but the greater satisfaction came from the national attention the White House focused on females in STEM fields.
“We need all of our kids focused and ready to help us with the challenges that are coming forward,” Brown says.
“It means that we can’t exclude anyone and, more importantly, we have to encourage everybody.”
What you don’t know about her
“I am working on a book—it’s a collection of lessons I learned from my maternal grandmother. I’ve given up television and I have set aside more time for my writing.”
Favorite thing about UB
“The people. I have come to appreciate the community of staff and faculty that help to enrich the learning environment for so many students.”
Favorite meal to make for guests
“Stuffed, fried chicken; cabbage with smoked pork; sweet potato casserole; black-eyed peas (which I make St. Lucian style—dry with peppers and sausage from Mississippi); basmati rice; and my mother’s corn bread recipe.”
Best thing about gardening
“I talk all the time! Gardening gives me time to think.”
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