Holy Child has planned a year-long speaker series designed to inspire students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
Photo courtesy of Connelly School of the Holy Child
When Trish Whitcomb’s daughter Colleen began to express an interest in engineering, she and her husband were at a loss as to how to foster her academic and career aspirations.
“I am a pediatric oncology nurse, my husband is a general contractor, and our daughter Colleen’s interests are in technology and engineering, which is something we knew very little about,” said Whitcomb, whose daughter is a sophomore at Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, and a member of the school’s Tech Club. “Over the years I have learned what arduino microcontrollers, LEDs and soldering irons are, and seen how Colleen uses them in different projects.”
Whitcomb and other Holy Child parents have a new tool to help them support their daughters. The school has planned a year-long speaker series called Leading Voices, during which female leaders in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will offer guidance to parents and students interested in exploring STEM careers.
“Research also shows us that exposing girls to female mentors has a strong impact on their willingness to consider a career in the tech field,” said Shannon M. Gomez, Ed.D., Connelly School of the Holy Child head of school. “There are minimal differences in aptitude for math and science between the genders, but society makes them much bigger. Having an example of a successful woman scientist or mathematician standing before them completely debunks that myth.”
Teachers say they hope the series helps build their students’ confidence in one day pursuing STEM careers.
“While we have always focused on and valued educating young women in the arenas of math and science, our students are still exposed to current societal norms and expectations for girls. We must always be vigilant and consistently encourage our remarkable women to explore their world, theoretically through mathematics and practically through science,” said Jenna Sutton, who teaches both regular and advanced placement biology, oceanography and forensics. “Too many girls still fall into the ‘the good girl syndrome,’ where they are taught to be obedient and abide by the rules. This can limit creativity and lower self-esteem.”
Teachers also hope the series sparks a dialogue.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to engage our students in a conversation about the underrepresentation of women in STEM and spark their interest in pursuing these careers in the future,” said Kaitlyn Valis, one of Holy Child’s math teachers. “My hope is that some of our girls become the next leading voices in these fields.”
Gomez is optimistic about the positive influence Leading Voices will have on the school community. “I think this program will provide students with more possibilities for their future,” she said. “Leading Voices will also help by encouraging faculty members to think about problem-solving as a concept that can be applied across all disciplines.”
Whitcomb is enthusiastic about gaining new tools to inspire and support her daughter.
“I look forward to receiving guidance in how to help Colleen navigate to the career of her choice,” she said. “I think it will be an invaluable experience for Colleen to have the opportunity to speak … with women who have successful careers in fields that interest her.”