Smith Helps Lead National Conversation on STEM Education

When leading educators convene in Washington, D.C., this week for a White House conference on STEM education for women, Smith will be well represented.

President Kathleen McCartney is one of the college presidents invited to participate in the first White House Council on Women and Girls’ conversation on STEM education on July 9. McCartney will be joined by Patricia DiBartolo, faculty director of the sciences at Smith.

“This conference signals the importance of educating young women in science, technology, engineering and math,” said McCartney, “and Smith’s invitation recognizes the college’s leadership in this critical field. I am glad for the opportunity to share what Smith is doing in STEM education, and I’m eager to help develop new partnerships and new strategies that will build on this work in the years ahead.”

Organized by the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as Arizona State University’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, the event is designed to develop new strategies for increasing diversity at all levels of STEM education. Gabriel Escontrias, program manager for the Center for Gender and Equity in Science and Technology at Arizona State, says the meeting will be highly interactive, allowing participants to shape collaborations and commitments that will drive innovation in the years ahead.

In addition to college presidents and science educators, this first meeting will also be attended by representatives from industry, professional associations and the nonprofit sector, including technology incubators and maker spaces.

DiBartolo says Smith’s invitation to participate in the conference makes good sense. “Smith’s institutional commitment to access and equity, as well as our innovative programming to support these commitments in the sciences through our Posse and AEMES programs, places the college on the national stage for conversations around women in STEM,” DiBartolo said.

Smith’s AEMES program, short for Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Sciences, offers students historically underrepresented in STEM fields mentoring, leadership and research opportunities with the goal of building a more diverse STEM community.

DiBartolo noted, too, that Smith’s efforts in the sciences are yielding demonstrable results. Forty percent of the college’s current students have declared a science major, a rate at least double the national average for women. Smith has a long history of excellence in science pedagogy, including cutting-edge faculty-student research opportunities that are expanding through course-based research experiences, Praxis internships and summer internships.

“These programs push our students to engage with and contribute to the broader world,” DiBartolo noted. “This week’s White House event will build on these efforts.”

At Smith, science faculty recently completed a strategic plan that affirms a mission statement promising to “cultivate the scientist in the next generation of women leaders so they can meet the challenges of our world.” The plan articulates four strategic directions that build on current strengths, including ensuring access for all, engaging with the world, developing knowledge and skills, and fortifying student agency and scientific identity.

DiBartolo says this week’s White House meeting will provide an opportunity to share Smith’s plan, while also thinking more broadly. “I am looking forward to contributing to conversations about inclusive excellence for women in STEM,” she said, “while simultaneously pushing our own thinking further.”