Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is helping to teach STEM skills to Black and Latino students

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar standing in front of a microphone with a suit on while making gestures with his hands

By Michelle Fox, CNBC

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a lot more on his mind these days than the sport.

For more than a decade, he’s been focused on introducing underserved students to a STEM education, which is science, technology, engineering and math. Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in the field, in which workers tend to earn more than non-STEM workers with similar education levels.

The Covid pandemic has made his mission even more urgent. Students of color are seeing the biggest learning loss amid school closures, a McKinsey & Company report found in December. That translates into a hit on future earning power.

“It’s a social justice issue; giving kids a better idea of where they can go with their education,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

He began his nonprofit, Skyhook Foundation, in 2009 to provide those educational opportunities to 4th and 5th graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Typically, the students attend a camp for five days and four nights in the Angeles National Forest and get an immersive learning experience. The attendees are largely English language learners and participate in free or reduced lunch programs.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with students at his Skyhook Camp cheering and holding up posters of their camp flyer
Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with students at his Skyhook Camp, which introduces underserved kids to a STEM education
Deborah Morales

When the pandemic hit, the foundation adjusted and used eco-vans to bring the camp to individual recreation centers and playgrounds, while remaining socially distant.

“We try to give them their first experience with science and let them know it’s not something exotic, it just takes application and they can learn a lot,” the six-time National Basketball Champion said.

“It’s been very gratifying for me to see the light turn on with the kids, when they started to realize what’s possible and where they can go with this information.”

Yet there are still several obstacles in Abdul-Jabbar’s path, namely the ability to reach more children. There is currently a six-year wait list to get into Skyhook Camp. There is also a lack of WiFi access and computer equipment for many.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

3 Things To Know About What Scientists Say About Our Future Climate
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climate control post. hands holding a world globe

By , NPR

More than 200 climate scientists just released a stark look at how fast the climate is warming, showing heat waves, extreme rain and intense droughts are on the rise. The evidence for warming is “unequivocal” but the extent of future disasters will be determined by how fast governments can cut heat-trapping emissions. Here are the top findings from the report.

#1 Humans are causing rapid and widespread warming
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has now reached the highest level in at least the past 2 million years. As a result, temperatures are warming quickly. Since 1970, global temperatures have increased faster than in any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years. Some parts of the globe, like the poles, are warming even faster.

#2 Extreme weather is on the rise and will keep getting worse
Heat waves are more frequent and intense. Storms are dumping more rainfall, causing floods. Droughts are getting hotter and drier. Scientists are finding these trends are directly linked to the human influence on the climate and they’re getting worse.

#3 If humans cut emissions, the worst impacts are avoidable
While the planet will continue warm in the near-term, scientists say there is still time to prevent catastrophic climate change. That would mean a rapid drop in emissions from power plants and cars over the next few decades, essentially halting the use of fossil fuels.

Click here to read the full article on NPR.

Why Mars? The fascination with exploring the red planet
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A rendering of the planet Mars

By Ashley Strickland of CNN

The mystique of Mars is one that humans can’t seem to resist. The red planet has easily captured our interest for centuries, heavily featured in science fiction books and films and the subject of robotic exploration since the 1960s.

In February, three spacecraft arrived at Mars after departing from different launch points on Earth in July. These myriad missions seek to understand our planetary neighbor and unlock the secrets of its past to prepare for future exploration.
The three missions — China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe and NASA’s Perseverance rover — took advantage of an alignment between Mars and Earth that occurs every 26 months, allowing for quicker and more efficient trips when the two planets are on the same side of the sun.
The Hope Probe will stay in orbit for a Martian year — equivalent to 687 days on Earth — to gather data about Mars’ atmosphere.
Tianwen-1, whose name means “Quest for Heavenly Truth,” is orbiting the planet before landing a rover on the surface, with the hope that it can gather important information about the Martian soil, geological structure, environment, atmosphere and signs of water.
The Perseverance rover is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars and will collect samples to be returned to Earth by future missions.
Perseverance also carries the names of nearly 11 million people etched on three silicon chips. She is a robotic scientist exploring Mars on behalf of humanity and is able to share what she sees and hears through 23 cameras, including video, and two microphones.
If three missions arriving at Mars within days of each other seems excessive, imagine explorers seeing Earth for the first time and wanting to understand all aspects of its past, climate, water, geology and life systems. It takes time and different capabilities to explore aspects of an entire planet to know the real story.
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock
This is how the human heart adapts to space
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Two men are standing looking at each other in front of what appears to be a map.

By Ashley Strickland

When astronaut Scott Kelly spent nearly a year in space, his heart shrank despite the fact that he worked out six days a week over his 340-day stay, according to a new study.

Surprisingly, researchers observed the same change in Benoît Lecomte after he completed his 159-day swim across the Pacific Ocean in 2018.
The findings suggest that long-term weightlessness alters the structure of the heart, causing shrinkage and atrophy, and low-intensity exercise is not enough to keep that from happening. The study published Monday in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.
Photo : CNN
The gravity we experience on Earth is what helps the heart to maintain both its size and function as it keeps blood pumping through our veins. Even something as simple as standing up and walking around helps pull blood down into our legs.
When the element of gravity is replaced with weightlessness, the heart shrinks in response.
Kelly lived in the absence of gravity aboard the International Space Station from March 27, 2015, to March 1, 2016. He worked out on a stationary bike and treadmill and incorporated resistance activities into his routine six days a week for two hours each day.
Lecomte swam from June 5 to November 11, 2018, covering 1,753 miles and averaging about six hours a day swimming. That sustained activity may sound extreme, but each day of swimming was considered to be low-intensity activity.
Even though Lecomte was on Earth, he was spending hours a day in the water, which offsets the effects of gravity. Long-distance swimmers use the prone technique, a horizontal facedown position, for these endurance swims.
Researchers expected that the activities performed by both men would keep their hearts from experiencing any shrinkage or weakening. Data collected from tests of their hearts before, during and after these extreme events showed otherwise.
Kelly and Lecomte both experienced a loss of mass and initial drop in diameter in the left ventricles of the heart during their experiences.
Both long-duration spaceflight and prolonged water immersion led to a very specific adaptation of the heart, said senior study author Dr. Benjamin Levine, a professor of internal medicine/cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
While the authors point out that they only studied two men who both performed extraordinary things, further study is needed to understand how the human body reacts in extreme situations.
Read the full article at CNN.
Empowering Women in STEM at Stanford
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Stanford women in stem pose together with arms around each other shoulders smiling

By Taylor Kubota

Although women are graduating with science degrees in increasing numbers, their representation diminishes by the time they reach more senior levels.

To give women a sense of belonging in STEM departments—and ultimately ensure the world benefits from their ideas and insights—over a dozen groups at Stanford University are pushing their communities to amplify and encourage the influence of women in STEM.

One such group, led by Margot Gerritsen, professor of energy resources engineering in the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, runs an international network of data science conferences that feature woman panelists and speakers called the Women in Data Science Conference (WiDS).

“We do not just want work with women at the exclusion of others. We do want to promote outstanding work by outstanding women, and show women they are not alone in this field.” Gerritsen said.

A Vision for Stanford

As part of Stanford’s vision, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment (IDEAL) initiative is working across the entire campus community to advance the university’s commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion.

“Promoting diversity at Stanford is critical for ensuring our intellectual strength and ability to contribute to our communities in meaningful ways,” said Provost Persis Drell. “The number of women undergraduates in STEM subjects at Stanford is increasing—which is great—but there is still a large disparity for women entering these fields professionally. And women leave their STEM-based careers at a much higher rate than men. These campus organizations help call attention to these issues.”

Centering Women, Welcoming All

Stanford’s Women in STEM groups focus on supporting women, but are open to anyone who shares the goal of promoting a supportive and encouraging environment for all.

“The default is for men to feel more wanted and for women to doubt whether they should attend an event or speak up during a discussion. It’s important to have some spaces where we reverse that expectation and explicitly tell women that they belong here,” said Julia Olivieri, a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering who is also co-president of Women in Mathematics, Statistics and Computational Engineering (WiMSCE).

Olivieri founded WiMSCE with her co-president, Allison Koenecke, also a graduate student in the Institute for Computational and Mathematical Engineering, inspired by Gerritsen’s efforts to elevate women in their institute.

As with many similar groups, they aim to create an environment where women don’t have to worry about being the spokesperson for their gender or about bringing up issues specific to being a woman in STEM.

“Oftentimes you’re the only woman in the room, so you’re scared that if you say something wrong, not only will they think you’re stupid, they’ll think that all women are stupid,” said Koenecke. “These women-centric groups, like WiMSCE, are a place for women to gain experience in asking questions and not be afraid to fail.”

The Women in STEM groups at Stanford support many activities, bridging professional, personal and cultural enrichment. They host networking and career development events, where attendees can find mentors, meet with industry professionals and learn how to ask for raises. They have informal community-building events, like paint nights and hangouts, to discuss the week’s highs and lows.

The groups do delve into specific issues that tend to go hand-in-hand with existing as a woman in academia, such as the imposter syndrome (the idea that you don’t deserve your success, even in the face of clear evidence that you do) and the “mom effect” (the expectation that as teachers, they should be more nurturing than teachers who are men).

“I went to community college before transferring and was fortunate enough to learn about programs that encourage women and minorities in science,” said Priscilla San Juan, a graduate student in biology and president of Stanford Hermanas in STEM. “We can make an impact just by being present, so that these young students can see that there’s more than one kind of scientist.”

Elevating Others

Many of Stanford’s groups supporting women in STEM are having an impact outside the campus community. Stanford’s Womxn in Design had over 350 people attend their conference last fall, and hosted their first makeathon in February.

“As we were searching for a diverse lineup of conference speakers, we were faced with the harsh reality— the rest of the field isn’t really elevating womxn of color. So, we are really pushing to be more inclusive,” said Nicole Orsak, a management science and engineering major and co-president of Stanford Womxn in Design. “We’ve also changed the ‘e’ in our name to an ‘x’ to make it clear that we welcome all womxn and, really, anyone who is an ally to womxn.”

Stanford’s Hermanas in STEM is also considering a name change in order to reinforce that their membership goes beyond women and Latinx people.

“Everyone is welcome in Hermanas in STEM. All we ask is that people advocate for Latinx folks in academic spaces because we don’t always feel welcome or that we belong,” added San Juan.

Gerritsen, too, acknowledges that the success of WiDS sets the stage for a more complex effort to promote other minority groups in data science, such as women of color and gender non-binary people.

For now, she’s focused on how to make the WiDS network as strong as possible.

“What I’m hoping is someday these conferences are totally unnecessary. That would be great,” said Gerritsen. “We just want to normalize that there are women out there doing outstanding work.”

Source:  https://news.stanford.edu/2020/03/02/recognizing-empowering-women-stem/

Can Virtual Reality Help Autistic Children Navigate the Real World?
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Mr. Ravindran adjusts his son’s VR headset between lessons. “It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said of the time when his son used Google Street View through a headset, then went into his playroom and acted out what he had experienced in VR. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.

By Gautham Nagesh, New York Times

This article is part of Upstart, a series on young companies harnessing new science and technology.

Vijay Ravindran has always been fascinated with technology. At Amazon, he oversaw the team that built and started Amazon Prime. Later, he joined the Washington Post as chief digital officer, where he advised Donald E. Graham on the sale of the newspaper to his former boss, Jeff Bezos, in 2013.

By late 2015, Mr. Ravindran was winding down his time at the renamed Graham Holdings Company. But his primary focus was his son, who was then 6 years old and undergoing therapy for autism.

“Then an amazing thing happened,” Mr. Ravindran said.

Mr. Ravindran was noodling around with a virtual reality headset when his son asked to try it out. After spending 30 minutes using the headset in Google Street View, the child went to his playroom and started acting out what he had done in virtual reality.

“It was one of the first times I’d seen him do pretend play like that,” Mr. Ravindran said. “It ended up being a light bulb moment.”

Like many autistic children, Mr. Ravindran’s son struggled with pretend play and other social skills. His son’s ability to translate his virtual reality experience to the real world sparked an idea. A year later, Mr. Ravindran started a company called Floreo, which is developing virtual reality lessons designed to help behavioral therapists, speech therapists, special educators and parents who work with autistic children.

The idea of using virtual reality to help autistic people has been around for some time, but Mr. Ravindran said the widespread availability of commercial virtual reality headsets since 2015 had enabled research and commercial deployment at much larger scale. Floreo has developed almost 200 virtual reality lessons that are designed to help children build social skills and train for real world experiences like crossing the street or choosing where to sit in the school cafeteria.

Last year, as the pandemic exploded demand for telehealth and remote learning services, the company delivered 17,000 lessons to customers in the United States. Experts in autism believe the company’s flexible platform could go global in the near future.

That’s because the demand for behavioral and speech therapy as well as other forms of intervention to address autism is so vast. Getting a diagnosis for autism can take months — crucial time in a child’s development when therapeutic intervention can be vital. And such therapy can be costly and require enormous investments of time and resources by parents.

The Floreo system requires an iPhone (version 7 or later) and a V.R. headset (a low-end model costs as little as $15 to $30), as well as an iPad, which can be used by a parent, teacher or coach in-person or remotely. The cost of the program is roughly $50 per month. (Floreo is currently working to enable insurance reimbursement, and has received Medicaid approval in four states.)

A child dons the headset and navigates the virtual reality lesson, while the coach — who can be a parent, teacher, therapist, counselor or personal aide — monitors and interacts with the child through the iPad.

The lessons cover a wide range of situations, such as visiting the aquarium or going to the grocery store. Many of the lessons involve teaching autistic children, who may struggle to interpret nonverbal cues, to interpret body language.

Autistic self-advocates note that behavioral therapy to treat autism is controversial among those with autism, arguing that it is not a disease to be cured and that therapy is often imposed on autistic children by their non-autistic parents or guardians. Behavioral therapy, they say, can harm or punish children for behaviors such as fidgeting. They argue that rather than conditioning autistic people to act like neurotypical individuals, society should be more welcoming of them and their different manner of experiencing the world.

“A lot of the mismatch between autistic people and society is not the fault of autistic people, but the fault of society,” said Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “People should be taught to interact with people who have different kinds of disabilities.”

Mr. Ravindran said Floreo respected all voices in the autistic community, where needs are diverse. He noted that while Floreo was used by many behavioral health providers, it had been deployed in a variety of contexts, including at schools and in the home.

“The Floreo system is designed to be positive and fun, while creating positive reinforcement to help build skills that help acclimate to the real world,” Mr. Ravindran said.

In 2017, Floreo secured a $2 million fast track grant from the National Institutes of Health. The company is first testing whether autistic children will tolerate headsets, then conducting a randomized control trial to test the method’s usefulness in helping autistic people interact with the police.

Early results have been promising: According to a study published in the Autism Research journal (Mr. Ravindran was one of the authors), 98 percent of the children completed their lessons, quelling concerns about autistic children with sensory sensitivities being resistant to the headsets.

Ms. Gross said she saw potential in virtual reality lessons that helped people rehearse unfamiliar situations, such as Floreo’s lesson on crossing the street. “There are parts of Floreo to get really excited about: the airport walk through, or trick or treating — a social story for something that doesn’t happen as frequently in someone’s life,” she said, adding that she would like to see a lesson for medical procedures.

However, she questioned a general emphasis by the behavioral therapy industry on using emerging technologies to teach autistic people social skills.

A second randomized control trial using telehealth, conducted by Floreo using another N.I.H. grant, is underway, in hopes of showing that Floreo’s approach is as effective as in-person coaching.

But it was those early successes that convinced Mr. Ravindran to commit fully to the project.

“There were just a lot of really excited people.,” he said. “When I started showing families what we had developed, people would just give me a big hug. They would start crying that there was someone working on such a high-tech solution for their kids.”

Clinicians who have used the Floreo system say the virtual reality environment makes it easier for children to focus on the skill being taught in the lessons, unlike in the real world where they might be overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

Celebrate the Children, a nonprofit private school in Denville, N.J., for children with autism and related challenges, hosted one of the early pilots for Floreo; Monica Osgood, the school’s co-founder and executive director, said the school had continued to use the system.

Click here to read the full article on New York Times.

New ‘smart’ apartments give people with disabilities ability to live independently
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typical Lakewood apartment

By Homa Bash, News 5 Cleveland

On the outside, it looks like your typical Lakewood apartment.

Fourteen units close to shopping and restaurants, right in the heart of the city.

But on the inside, four apartments have been in the works for nearly two years.

They’re called TryTech – short for “try technology.”

A partnership between the nonprofit North Coast Community Homes and the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Kelly Petty is the CEO at CCBDD.

“We might see people with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, a whole variety of disabilities that qualify for our services,” she explained.

And TryTech is the first of its kind in the country.

Smart apartments tricked out with the latest in technology to make independent living for those with developmental disabilities attainable.

Voice activated tech, smart fridges and doorbells, an iPad with access to a virtual support person at the touch of a button, just to name a few things.

Being in an integrated building sets it apart even more.

“People who come to live in the TryTech apartments will be living in the same building as people without disabilities and that is unique and very exciting,” Petty said.

Chris West is the CEO of North Coast Community Homes, which has helped build and design hundreds of homes for those with disabilities in Northeast Ohio. Their partnership with CCBDD stretches nearly four decades.

“This really allows them to be in a community that’s inclusive,” West said.

The apartments will be available to four individuals at a time, on a trial basis —they can test it out for a weekend or even up to a few weeks.

From there, they can decide which parts of the technology are most helpful, so that can be integrated in a more permanent home for them.

Grace Gorton was one of the first to test it out.

“It feels very empowering as a deaf person and deaf single woman,” Gorton said, adding that she’s proud of herself for getting out of her comfort zone. “I want to work on my self confidence and my ability to live on my own.”

“It really allow them to show everybody they can live on their own. We know that they can,” West said.

And this project lets them prove it — to themselves, to their families, and to their support systems.

Click here to read the full article on News 5 Cleveland.

Women and Drones Documentary Filming Onsite at Commercial UAV Expo
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woman flying a drone wearing a safety vest and glassess

Commercial UAV Expo has been announced as an official filming location for a multi-part documentary produced through a partnership with Women and Drones and documentary film company Monumental Access. The partnership will focus on inspiring the next generation of talented aviation leaders by capturing the stories and footage of women in the drone industry.

In partnership with Women and Drones, Monumental Access has been creating a multi-part documentary for a behind-the-scenes look into the professionals, especially women, in the uncrewed aviation space. The multi-part documentary will give a birds-eye view of the significance of the drone industry by capturing in-depth interviews with educators, CEOs, and professionals allowing their stories to be told from the first-person perspective. Viewers will have an all-access look into the women’s lives who are shaping the industry.

“Women and Drones has been an important supporting partner of Commercial UAV Expo for years. We are thrilled that we can help elevate their mission and provide a documentary filming location to access some of the most influential leaders in the commercial drone industry by bringing the filming location to Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas,” said Lora Burns, Marketing Manager and Coordinator of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion UAV Empower initiatives at Commercial UAV Expo.

“The partnership with Monumental and Commercial UAV Expo will allow us to capture stories of the individuals who are contributing to the future of STEM and aviation. From the nonprofits and educational organizations introducing youth to aviation and STEM via drones to the innovators leading the way in the various emerging aviation technologies we plan to shed a bright light on the industry” said Sharon Rossmark, CEO of Women and Drones.

“Monumental Access is excited to highlight the excellence achieved by women in the field of emerging aviation technologies. By capturing their stories through the lens of a camera everyone will have an opportunity to have a front-row seat alongside these amazing women” said Monte Chambers, founder and CEO of Monumental Access.

Filming started in May with the Disaster Response Workshop hosted by Dr. Robin Murphy at Texas A&M and the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue. The project captured the experiences of the participants and facilitators and shared a powerful message about the importance of this type of training for women. “Ultimately, my desired outcome for filming in the Disaster Response Workshop will be to create engaging content for viewers unfamiliar with the drone sector of the aviation industry. By raising awareness to the public, these modern-day hidden figures will be in the spotlight” Chambers added.

The next round of filming will take place at Commercial UAV Expo in Las Vegas, Sept 6-8, 2022. In addition to the onsite filming, Commercial UAV Expo offers a robust conference program delivering practical, actionable education. Sessions include a panel on Women Behind the Drone Revolution, hosted by DroneTalks, featuring inspirational women from around the world as they share career path stories, and deliver actionable insight based on their successes, key challenges, important learnings, and their current activities in the industry.  Additional programming includes deep dive vertical industry sessions for professionals in construction, drone delivery, energy & utilities, forestry & agriculture, infrastructure & transportation, mining & aggregates, security, and surveying & mapping. Industry Update Sessions provide up-to-the-minute information on topics that affect everyone in UAS, such as AAM, BVLOS, and autonomy.

Event features include an exhibit hall that will feature 200+ top UAS companies from around the globe. Additional special events include Live Outdoor Flying Demonstrations, the DRONERESPONDERS Public Safety Summit, and Workshops and Trainings, all of which allow for hands-on learning and industry connections. The 2022 event boasts more than 300 media and association supporters from six continents, including the longstanding supporting partnership with Women and Drones. Visit www.expouav.com for more information or to register.

Women and Drones Email Contact:  media@womenanddrones.com
Commercial UAV Email Contact: lburns@divcom.com

About Commercial UAV Expo 

Commercial UAV Expo, presented by Commercial UAV News, is an international conference and expo exclusively focused on commercial UAS integration and operation covering industries including Construction; Drone Delivery; Energy & Utilities; Forestry & Agriculture; Infrastructure & Transportation; Mining & Aggregates; Public Safety & Emergency Services; Security; and Surveying & Mapping. It takes place September 6 – 8, 2022 at Caesars Forum, Las Vegas NV. For more information, visit www.expouav.com.

Commercial UAV Expo is produced by Diversified Communications’ technology portfolio which also includes Commercial UAV News; Geo Week, Geo Week Newsletter, 3D Technology Newsletter, AEC Innovations Newsletter, Geo Business (UK) and Digital Construction Week (UK).

About Women and Drones:

Women And Drones is the leading membership organization dedicated to driving excellence in the uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) industry by advocating for female participation in this dynamic segment of the global economy. We partner with companies committed to an inclusive culture where women can thrive. Our educational programs range from kindergarten to career in efforts to balance the gender equation in the industry now, as well as for the future of flight.

About Monumental Access

Monumental Access focuses on producing quality media by creating content, capturing the heartfelt story, and connecting with community stakeholders. With the nationwide demand for videographers, Monumental Access developed a unique market for governmental, non-profit, and corporate companies.  What started off as a dream during the 2020 Global pandemic, has transitioned into a reality in detailing the important moments of our clients through the lens of a camera.  Combined with unique storytelling and professionalism, Monumental Access connects the hearts and attention of many across the country with its interviews, commercials, and documentaries! As a result, Monumental Access is one of the most creative media companies in the Saint Louis, MO area.

 

Helping girls see STEM careers in a different light
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Systemic barriers and stereotypes can keep women, girls and other underrepresented groups from pursuing careers in STEM.

By Sakeina Syed, The Globe, and Mail

Prior to this summer, Patricia Kennedy had never been to the Northwest Territories. But for the past five weeks, she’s been living in Norman Wells, NWT, teaching STEM to youth.

Each day, she heads to camp to run activities with groups ranging in age from four to 16. They work on engineering design builds, coding activities and learn about chemistry and biology. The programs are also visited by local Indigenous knowledge holders or elders, who help Indigenous youth make connections to the STEM that already exists in their own communities.

“I’ve learned so much,” says Ms. Kennedy, who is an undergraduate student at the University of Ottawa studying engineering and computer science. “It’s really opened my eyes, and it’s been an amazing experience.”

The STEM camp is an initiative run by Actua, a national organization that works to engage youth across the country with science and technology programs.

With special emphasis on bridging the “digital divide,” Actua runs programs focused on communities underrepresented in STEM fields. These include their National Girls Program, Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) Program and Black Youth in STEM Program.

“STEM equity means creating an environment, creating a space for youth regardless of their gender, regardless of their socio-economic status,” says Jennifer Ladipo, national program manager at Actua. “Creating that sense of fun and magic for all kids, all youth, all genders, all races, is really what STEM equity means to me.”

Bridging the ‘digital divide’
Jennifer Flanagan is the CEO of Actua and has been involved since she helped start a University of New Brunswick chapter more than 20 years ago.

“What has long been understood by us at Actua is that there are deep inequities in access to education writ large,” she says. “Certainly in access to experiences that enrich that education or build skills outside of that education.”

Ms. Flanagan notes that “huge improvements” have been made, such as some university programs achieving equal participation of women. However, she says that in engaging with young girls through Actua’s initiatives, the organization encounters ongoing challenges.

“Stereotypes are unfortunately alive and well,” she says. “We’re still dealing with a significant amount of systemic barriers that impact girls and young women both in the work force – which we hear about all the time – but also just in their daily lives.”

An engineer by profession, Ms. Ladipo has been committed to equity since early in her career. While in university, she started an initiative called The STEM Girl in the hopes of empowering young girls: “I started writing children’s books, trying to encourage young girls to see fascination in STEM and have role models, especially at very young ages.”

Actua STEM programs are often facilitated by youth, for youth, Ms. Ladipo says, such as the summer camps run by undergraduate students such as Ms. Kennedy.

“[It’s] giving [young people] the chance to see role models that look like them, and see people and talk to people that might have the same experiences as them,” Ms. Ladipo says. “To show them that their own experiences are valuable, that they are needed.”

Ms. Flanagan stresses the need for programs like these, now more than ever, particularly considering the number of women who left the work force through the pandemic.

“We worry that will continue to slide [women’s] progress backwards,” she says. “So this work has never before been so important to our economy.”

Science as part of everyday life
Recently, Ms. Kennedy went on a field trip with her campers during their module on plants and medicine. They gathered plants from local fields, then learned from an Indigenous knowledge holder about the different uses for those plants.

“I find a lot of the time in school, STEM concepts are very abstract, and they’re not really related to things in your community or things you might be interested in,” says Ms. Kennedy. “Showing them that STEM can be fun and interesting and relevant to their lives is important at any age.”

By developing programs in partnership with communities, Actua is able to connect lessons to what youth might already see in their own lives, Ms. Flanagan says. “In the case of our Northern outreach programs, [it’s] 20-plus years that we have been working with Northern and Inuit communities.”

Actua has grown over the years, with 1,000 undergraduate students and 350,000 youth participating in the organization’s programs. This has only been possible, Ms. Flanagan says, through a “hyper-local” focus.

“Reflecting the realities of communities is so important to us. We not only build the skills, but we show [youth] how much opportunity exists in their own communities for future engagement,” she says.

“Not only are they a part of science, but science is literally their everyday lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Globe and Mail.

Getting Girls Into STEM by Improving Education for Everyone
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Young girl in library reading textbook with the tree of knowledge growing out of the textbook with the caption

ByAsia A. Eaton, Psychology Today

Although women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, they have long been underrepresented in many STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Given that boys and girls perform similarly in STEM, this means a lot of STEM talent is being left untapped. Until we are successful at including diverse women and girls in STEM, we will be unable to address STEM labor shortages or stay globally competitive in research and development.

Our failure to include all available STEM talent in our workforce is even more dire for women of color. For example, Hispanic women represent 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce, but just 2 percent of STEM workers.

Various efforts have attempted to address these gender gaps in the last few decades, including the creation of STEM toys targeted at girls, large-scale research efforts, government funding, and afterschool programming. Despite this, the gaps haven’t narrowed as quickly as needed. In a 2022 review in the journal Social Issues and Policy Review, Drs. Sophie Kuchynka, Luis Rivera, and I explore (1) why these gaps persist and (2) ways to bridge them in K-12 education through policy and practice.

Why Do Gender Gaps in STEM Persist?
Features of the systems we live in and of our own social and psychological functioning serve to keep gender gaps in STEM alive.

1. Macrosystem influences.

Macrosystems, like our educational, economic, and justice systems, uphold gender stereotypes about the superiority of boys and men in STEM. STEM textbooks, for example, disproportionately portray male role models in STEM, sending the message that STEM is for boys. Further, system-justifying myths perpetuated in the media, such as the protestant work ethic and the myth of meritocracy, lead people to believe that the representation of men vs. women in STEM is just, and a result of differences in interest, aptitude, or hard work.

2. Microsystem influences.

The macrosystems we live in influence the smaller social systems closer to us (microsystems), like our families, schools, and peer groups. They also affect our individual psychology—how we see, interpret, and act on our social worlds.

Being raised in a world where STEM is associated with boys and men may implicitly lead parents to use less scientific language with daughters compared to sons, for example. It can also affect the amount of air time boys vs. girls get to work out their ideas in STEM classrooms. Eventually, these messages can be internalized by girls, negatively affecting their STEM self-image, interest, and participation.

How to Improve STEM Education for Everyone
Based on our review of macrosystem and microsystem factors that sustain gender-STEM inequities, we make several recommendations for K-12 STEM policy and practice to optimize success for all children.

In terms of practice, we recommend:

  • Classrooms be designed to promote relational and collaborative learning. Teachers should emphasize gender-inclusive classroom norms that promote positive working relations between girls and boys.
  • Classes should teach the history of gender inequality and bias so teachers and students can actively work to create equitable and inclusive STEM environments.
  • Teachers should encourage cooperation between children, and vary the roles students are assigned so they do not automatically adopt traditional gender roles in the classroom.
  • Teachers should promote active learning and growth mindset strategies. Cross-discipline evidence indicates that active learning, rooted in constructivist theories, is more beneficial in STEM education.
  • STEM should be reframed as helping students achieve communal goals through scientific collaboration. Emphasizing socially-meaningful aspects of STEM can help stimulate STEM interest in girls, because they tend to place more value on communal than dominance goals.
  • Classes can utilize near-peer mentorship programs, which pair students with similar mentors slightly more advanced than them. These near-peer mentors can be especially important for marginalized students who often feel isolated or excluded in STEM.
  • Schools should expand STEM evaluation metrics beyond traditional and standardized tests to include the assessment of skills like motivation, empathy, problem-solving, and adaptability, which are closely tied to positive educational outcomes.

Click here to read the full article on Psychology Today.

The latest video game controller isn’t plastic. It’s your face.
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Dunn playing “Minecraft” using voice commands on the Enabled Play controller, face expression controls via a phone and virtual buttons on Xbox's adaptive controller. (Courtesy of Enabled Play Game Controller)

By Amanda Florian, The Washington Post

Over decades, input devices in the video game industry have evolved from simple joysticks to sophisticated controllers that emit haptic feedback. But with Enabled Play, a new piece of assistive tech created by self-taught developer Alex Dunn, users are embracing a different kind of input: facial expressions.

While companies like Microsoft have sought to expand accessibility through adaptive controllers and accessories, Dunn’s new device takes those efforts even further, translating users’ head movements, facial expressions, real-time speech and other nontraditional input methods into mouse clicks, key strokes and thumbstick movements. The device has users raising eyebrows — quite literally.

“Enabled Play is a device that learns to work with you — not a device you have to learn to work with,” Dunn, who lives in Boston, said via Zoom.

Dunn, 26, created Enabled Play so that everyone — including his younger brother with a disability — can interface with technology in a natural and intuitive way. At the beginning of the pandemic, the only thing he and his New Hampshire-based brother could do together, while approximately 70 miles apart, was game.

“And that’s when I started to see firsthand some of the challenges that he had and the limitations that games had for people with really any type of disability,” he added.

At 17, Dunn dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to become a full-time software engineer. He began researching and developing Enabled Play two and a half years ago, which initially proved challenging, as most speech-recognition programs lagged in response time.

“I built some prototypes with voice commands, and then I started talking to people who were deaf and had a range of disabilities, and I found that voice commands didn’t cut it,” Dunn said.

That’s when he started thinking outside the box.

Having already built Suave Keys, a voice-powered program for gamers with disabilities, Dunn created Snap Keys — an extension that turns a user’s Snapchat lens into a controller when playing games like Call of Duty, “Fall Guys,” and “Dark Souls.” In 2020, he won two awards for his work at Snap Inc.’s Snap Kit Developer Challenge, a competition among third-party app creators to innovate Snapchat’s developer tool kit.

With Enabled Play, Dunn takes accessibility to the next level. With a wider variety of inputs, users can connect the assistive device — equipped with a robust CPU and 8 GB of RAM — to a computer, game console or other device to play games in whatever way works best for them.

Dunn also spent time making sure Enabled Play was accessible to people who are deaf, as well as people who want to use nonverbal audio input, like “ooh” or “aah,” to perform an action. Enabled Play’s vowel sound detection model is based on “The Vocal Joystick,” which engineers and linguistics experts at the University of Washington developed in 2006.

“Essentially, it looks to predict the word you are going to say based on what is in the profile, rather than trying to assume it could be any word in the dictionary,” Dunn said. “This helps cut through machine learning bias by learning more about how the individual speaks and applies it to their desired commands.”

Dunn’s AI-enabled controller takes into account a person’s natural tendencies. If a gamer wants to set up a jump command every time they open their mouth, Enabled Play would identify that person’s individual resting mouth position and set that as the baseline.

In January, Enabled Play officially launched in six countries — its user base extending from the U.S. to the U.K., Ghana and Austria. For Dunn, one of his primary goals was to fill a gap in accessibility and pricing compared to other assistive gaming devices.

“There are things like the Xbox Adaptive Controller. There are things like the HORI Flex [for Nintendo Switch]. There are things like Tobii, which does eye-tracking and stuff like that. But it still seemed like it wasn’t enough,” he said.

Compared to some devices that are only compatible with one gaming system or computer at a time, Dunn’s AI-enabled controller — priced at $249.99 — supports a combination of inputs and outputs. Speech therapists say that compared to augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, which are medically essential for some with disabilities, Dunn’s device offers simplicity.

“This is just the start,” said Julia Franklin, a speech language pathologist at Community School of Davidson in Davidson, N.C. Franklin introduced students to Enabled Play this summer and feels it’s a better alternative to other AAC devices on the market that are often “expensive, bulky and limited” in usability. Many sophisticated AAC systems can range from $6,000 to $11,500 for high-tech devices, with low-end eye-trackers running in the thousands. A person may also download AAC apps on their mobile devices, which range from $49.99 to $299.99 for the app alone.

“For many people who have physical and cognitive differences, they often exhaust themselves to learn a complex AAC system that has limits,” she said. “The Enabled Play device allows individuals to leverage their strengths and movements that are already present.”

Internet users have applauded Dunn for his work, noting that asking for accessibility should not equate to asking for an “easy mode” — a misconception often cited by critics of making games more accessible.

“This is how you make gaming accessible,” one Reddit user wrote about Enabled Play. “Not by dumbing it down, but by creating mechanical solutions that allow users to have the same experience and accomplish the same feats as [people without disabilities].” Another user who said they regularly worked with young patients with cerebral palsy speculated that Enabled Play “would quite literally change their lives.”

Click here to read the full article on The Washington Post.

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Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. NACAC Conference 2022
    September 22, 2022 - September 24, 2022
  4. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  5. 29th Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE) Annual Conference
    September 25, 2022 - September 27, 2022
  6. NBMBAA 44th Annual Conference and Expo
    September 27, 2022 - October 1, 2022

Upcoming Events

  1. City Career Fair
    January 19, 2022 - November 4, 2022
  2. The Small Business Expo–Multiple Event Dates
    February 17, 2022 - December 1, 2022
  3. NACAC Conference 2022
    September 22, 2022 - September 24, 2022
  4. National College Resources Foundation Upcoming Events–Mark Your Calendar!
    September 24, 2022 - April 1, 2023
  5. 29th Advancing Minorities’ Interest in Engineering (AMIE) Annual Conference
    September 25, 2022 - September 27, 2022
  6. NBMBAA 44th Annual Conference and Expo
    September 27, 2022 - October 1, 2022