(This post is from another Jessie blog, Fourth Wave Business, and is republished here for your enjoyment!)
Let me paint you a picture of a young and enthusiastic Jessie, sophomore year biology class. . .
I LOVED Gwen Stefani of No Doubt fame and even dedicated 20 minutes of my mornings to creating elaborate bindi patterns in between and over my eyebrows to wear sometimes to school or friend’s band’s shows. If my dad didn’t insist that glitter was really just tiny pieces of shrapnel I would have rocked glitter makeup daily. Anything that had a surface I could alter was permanently colored/glittered/stickered/covered in whatever was totally “me” at the time.
Now. . . imagine I’m in biology class where I really dig learning about science and how things work (not so much the dissections, I tried to get out of those based on being vegetarian and not wanting to for moral reasons but NOPE – I HAD to) when we start learning about the cell. How freaking cool! This tiny microscopic thing is made up of all these other tiny microscopic things that all work together to perform specific functions and support life and stuff! Awesome! Of course came the assignment of creating our own three-dimensional cells to present in class and I was stoked. Science + crafts = homework I was actually excited about.
So my dad and I hit up a Michael’s where I load up on all kinds of pink, red, and purple craft foam as well as glitter of all colors and various other supplies needed to make the most epic cell my teacher, Mr. Shelley, had ever seen. I spent 2 whole nights working on that cell – getting the Golgi apparatus perfect and squiggly, making sure the mitochondrion looked super. . . mitochondrion-ish, and basically just focusing my attention on earning the highest grade this amount of glitter could get me.
The due date came and I must say, my cell was at least in the top 3 – I had everything labeled correctly, mine was very creative, and you could tell I spent more than just 10 minutes on the damn thing. I was pretty proud of that beautifully made sparkle cell.
I went to bed that night excited to see my hard work pay off the next day when I would collect my A and get to take home my scientific piece of art to perhaps convince my parents to display on our mantle piece (it would have looked dazzling next to our family photo). Alas, the next day would not be so kind. I arrived in biology class and ran to the back where our cells were all displayed. I easily found mine – it kind of looked like a disco ball from a distance – and found that I had received a C. For a minute I thought maybe Mr. Shelley just graded everyone harshly and my sparkle cell was no different. NOPE! I looked around and saw that other cells – some with half of their parts mislabeled or not even labeled at all had gotten A’s and B’s. I was confused so I asked Mr. Shelley straight away if there was a mistake and he said to me, which I won’t ever forget, “No mistake. This was a biology assignment. Not an arts and crafts project.” It didn’t matter that I had gotten everything correct or that it looked exactly like a cell (just with more glitter admittedly) – it only mattered that my personal sparkly interpretation was not up to his “scientific standards”.
I sat in class and fumed for about half of the time he was lecturing. I stopped paying attention. Who was this guy to say that my hard work deserved a lower grade than anyone else’s? Why did the use of glitter negate the actual scientific accuracy of my model? Then the anger was replaced with confusion and embarrassment. Maybe it was stupid to have thought I should use glitter in biology class. Did I even really know what I was doing in this class?
If I could go back I would tell my 15 year old self not to let that jerk of a glitter-hating teacher tell me my awesome cell was anything less than amazing. When I was 9 or 10 I wanted to be a marine biologist and unfortunately, I let that year in biology class with Mr. Shelley convince me not to pursue learning any hard sciences. I shut down that desire because I felt like there wasn’t a place for my interpretation of it.
Now. . . on to the modern-day news. . . late last year Carnegie Science Center offered “Science with a Sparkle” STEM learning opportunities for Girl Scouts – umm. . . AWESOME!!! Do you know how quickly I would have signed up for that?? If you had told me when I was little that I could be a chemist and make plastics I likely would have said “ok” but if you told me I could be a chemist and make nail polish I would have asked you where to sign up. It’s cliche, I know, but I suppose I was a gender-conforming sellout as a kid. I do have to say, the bad thing about Carnegie’s pretty rad offering for the Girl Scout’s is that while they offered them that one opportunity they were offering a long list of STEM opportunities for the Boy Scouts. I know, total bummer that they couldn’t have just listed ALL of the STEM opportunities for BOTH the GS and BS, but not everyone is perfectly aware of their biases.
The New York Times published this great defense against the attack on Sparkle Science because really, if it sparks interest in science for girls (or boys) why do you care what it’s called or the focus of the material?? Yes, one could see it as gender stereotyping but if you get your head out of your butt for two minutes you could see that some girls like sparkles – so why would you want to leave them out?
Providing something called “Science with a Sparkle” is a small step toward getting girls interested in STEM education. Of course, an even bigger step is to not exclude them from all the other STEM education opportunities (duh) but by trying to appeal to something traditionally geared toward young girls, they are at least opening the door to STEM in a different way.
It’s not perfect yet, but with more encouragement, greater opportunities, and perhaps different approaches I believe we can see the amount of women in the STEM fields grow exponentially within the next generation.
Let’s DO THIS!