BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When chemical engineer Tamara E. Brown launched
the Tech Savvy program in Buffalo in 2004, her goal was to convince
middle-school girls that they, too, could enjoy being in a science,
technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field.
Since then, Tech Savvy -- a program hosted at the University at
Buffalo and presented by the American Association of University
Women (AAUW) -- has inspired thousands of girls. As a result, Brown
is headed to Washington, D.C., today (Friday, Dec. 9) where she
will be honored for her efforts.
Brown and 11 other like-minded individuals who have made a
difference in the effort to recruit and retain girls and women in
STEM fields, will be honored at the White House as Champions of
Change. The program honors teachers, industry leaders, students and
nonprofit leaders who have made great efforts to reduce the
barriers that drive many girls and women away from high-paying,
highly rewarding careers as American innovators.
The ceremony will be aired live at 3:30 p.m. at http://www.whitehouse.gov/live.
"Tech Savvy has been enormously successful in communicating to
girls and their teachers and parents the huge potential of STEM
careers, " says Kerry Collins-Gross, PhD, assistant dean for
undergraduate education at UB's School of Engineering and Applied
Sciences, which hosts the Tech Savvy program. "UB is proud to host
an event that has such value for the girls of Western New York and
for innovation in general."
Brown first began thinking about such a program in 2004, when
she became president of the AAUW Buffalo chapter. "I was very aware
of the statistics around women in STEM," she recalls, noting
studies showing that enrollment of women in college engineering
classes remains very low, and that even among women who do choose
STEM careers, many end up leaving them.
"As I thought about solutions, I thought that the first key was
opportunity -- having multiple possibilities," she says.
Growing up in Vicksburg, Miss., Brown says she was fortunate to
have experienced a well-rounded, public school education that not
only exposed her to French, music and art, but also to computer
science, calculus, physics, accounting and psychology. With such a
broad background, she felt she had numerous opportunities, which
she fully explored at Vanderbilt University, where she was the
first student to complete a double major in biomedical engineering
and chemical engineering.
After graduation, she took a position in Western New York with
medical device manufacturer Matrx, and earned her master's degree
in engineering from UB. She later led Praxair to achieve its first
FDA-cleared medical device and is now a member of Praxair's U.S.
Project Execution team, where she controls cost and scheduling for
the engineering and construction of large capital projects. She is
also working on an MBA at Canisius College.
"I thought, if we can introduce the fun and value of STEM to
girls, you break the first barrier contributing to low rates of
women in STEM," she says. "Secondly, the adults in girls' lives are
critical, so by including parents and teachers in the Tech Savvy
program and getting them to actively encourage STEM education, you
help make the change from a passive culture to a learning culture
that promotes STEM education. This is what we do with Tech Savvy.
We give girls multiple possibilities through fun, illuminating,
educational glimpses at STEM careers while also giving parents and
teachers the tools they need so they can continue to encourage STEM
to their girls."
Every spring, Tech-Savvy brings to UB hundreds of middle-school
girls for an intensive one-day conference that encourages them to
explore STEM careers, and to begin considering their personal path
to college. And because the girls need the support of parents and
teachers and other significant adults in their lives, the
conference also includes workshops for them. Students spend the day
attending fun, hands-on workshops run by scientists, physicians and
engineers from UB and from other institutions and industries in
Western New York.
Part of the program's success has been due to the fact that
Brown and the people she works with on Tech Savvy are constantly
improving it as they get feedback from the girls who attend. "Even
today, too many of our students tell us that STEM careers just
aren't 'girly' enough or, even when they like science and math,
they don't perceive that these careers will allow them to have fun
or help people. This feedback has really helped inform what we do
next: For example, last year's workshops all centered on the hidden
needs for technology in unexpected fields, such as fashion design.
And this year, we will tackle how STEM helps people, for example,
allowing Haiti to rebuild after the earthquake."
Since 2006, Tech Savvy has positively affected thousands of
girls in inner-city and suburban schools throughout Western New
York. It also has attracted attendees from Rochester, the state's
Southern Tier and even Canada.
It has been so successful that in 2012 the program will be
expanded: Tech Savvy Girls on a Roll, a new follow-up effort for
girls in grades 10-12 who have completed the middle school program.
"This program will create a new, ongoing extension of Tech Savvy to
usher these students through high school with college prep, career
exploration and mentoring," says Brown. The high school program
will be launched at Tech Savvy 7 to be held March 17 at UB.
Brown is now working on developing a nationwide plan for Tech
Savvy, including a second program in Central New York, as well as a
program in her home state of Mississippi.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.