BUFFALO, N.Y. – Tamara Brown knows if she says the word
"polymer" to the average teenage girl, she's likely to be met with
a blank stare. She also knows she'll get a much more enthusiastic
reception to the word "gumdrop."
Bridging the gap between the candy and the chemical compounds
that actually make the stuff is just one of the many events slated
to take place at the seventh annual Tech Savvy Conference in UB's
Student Union on Saturday, March 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The event is sponsored by the American Association of University
Women (AAUW) and Praxair, Inc. and hosted by the University at
Buffalo School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Tech Savvy is the brainchild of Brown, a UB alumna with a
master's degree in engineering, who is a member of Praxair's U.S.
Project Execution team. She conceived of the idea in 2004, after
becoming president of the Buffalo chapter of the AAUW. Aware of the
alarming statistics regarding low enrollment for women in college
courses such as engineering, she started thinking about ways to
open up opportunities, and careers, for women in science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM).
She hit upon the idea of Tech Savvy – a conference geared
toward middle-school girls, aimed at introducing them to STEM
fields in ways that are fun, exciting and relevant to their world.
Brown knows making math and science fun is the first step to
encouraging girls to consider careers in STEM fields.
For her efforts, Brown earned recognition last year from
President Obama as one of 12 "Champions of Change" dedicated to
recruiting girls and women to pursue STEM careers.
According to Brown, one of the reasons girls are dissuaded from
pursuits in STEM fields is that the young women often don't view
science and technology careers as jobs that "help people,"
something that Brown's research has revealed is important to girls
when making career decisions. Brown hopes to combat that false
notion with the theme of this year's conference: "Doing Well by
"We want to show the girls that STEM (education and careers) can
foster good things, whether it's societal good or environmental
good," said Brown.
Participants will learn more about the philanthropic side of
science through demonstrations and presentations led by UB faculty
as well as by a variety of partnering community groups.
A prime example of showing girls the softer side of science is
the robotics demonstration led by Venkat N. Krovi, UB associate
professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. Krovi and his
graduate students will be introducing the participants to haptics,
which is tactile feedback technology, or as Krovi likes to call it,
"the touchy-feely side of robotics."
By getting girls to see science and technology in a less
intimidating light, Krovi hopes more girls will become interested
in fields like robotics, especially when they see all the
service-oriented applications that are possible with technology,
such as medical robotics and toy design.
John Ringland, UB associate professor of mathematics, will be
conducting "Math…Worlds to Explore," and will be introducing
participants to Conway's Game of Life, a zero-player game which
mimics population growth and can result in interesting
"Math is much broader," Ringland said. "It's about patterns in
general; it's a process of exploration."
Ringland hopes that the young girls at the event can begin to
see those patterns, and in doing so will realize that math is a
tool which can be used across a variety of fields, instead of
something that is impractical in the real world.
"This event is fun for us," Ringland said. "Hopefully some of
our enthusiasm will rub off on the participants and they'll start
to see math in a new light."
Several other UB professors and students will be conducting
workshops as well, on myriad topics including community planning,
the environmental impact of oil spills, earthquake relief response,
medicine and energy production.
Brown has also enlisted the help of several community agencies
to give the girls even more options.
"We look at future careers; we look at what's hot, like green
jobs. We look at what is realistic. And then we look in the Buffalo
community for collaboration," Brown said. "It's amazing how many
connections you make."
The girls attending Tech Savvy reap the rewards of those
connections, having the opportunity to participate in workshops led
by Roswell Park, Praxair, Independent Health, the National Weather
Service, Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER and the FBI.
Brown estimates that in the past six years, over 1,000 girls
have participated in Tech Savvy, many of them coming back year
It is these older girls, the ones who have grown up in the Tech
Savvy program, and are now in high school, that Brown had in mind
when she decided to launch the newest component of her program
"Tech Savvy Girls on a Roll." Designed specifically for 10th grade
girls, this portion of Tech Savvy is presented in partnership with
Princeton Review, and is designed to introduce the girls to the SAT
by allowing them to sit for a moderated practice exam.
Tech Savvy also has a session for parents who wish to attend
along with their daughters. This year the presenters will discuss
bullying, financial preparedness, academic achievement, public
policy that impacts education and grassroots movements that are
advocating for more reform and resources.