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Support for Women in the Sciences Starts Early at St. John’s

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Inspiring young women from local middle and high schools to pursue degrees in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, St. John’s University hosted 50 eighth- and ninth-graders for a day of hands-on learning this summer as part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s GOALS for Girls program. 

“A major challenge facing educators is how to encourage young women to study in the various areas of STEM,” said Marie Nitopi, Ed.D., Institutional Review Board and Women in Science Coordinator in the Office of Grants and Sponsored Research at St. John’s. “This effort partners girls with St. John’s students and faculty on campus as role models who inspire them.”

Founded in 2007, GOALS for Girls educates and enlightens young women about academic and career possibilities in STEM, with the ultimate goal of increasing their presence in those fields. St. John’s hosted this summer’s visit on August 11—the second consecutive year the GOALS students have come to the Queens campus. They represented schools from all five boroughs of the city.

“St. John’s University has given us a unique opportunity to work in a ‘college lab’ setting, where participants can interact with professors and graduate students,” said Shay Saleem, Senior Museum Educator, GOALS for Girls. “Our students continue to expand their perceptions of science, technology, engineering, and math on a higher level of education.”

The intensive, six-week summer program engages young women in learning activities that include field trips and conversations with influential women in STEM fields. One lecturer, for example, was Paula Lazrus, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Sociology and Anthropology. She spoke on “Slowing the Spread of Malaria,” one of four presentations the students attended at St. John’s.

“This program introduces young women to a wide range of professional opportunities that they may never have known about or considered for themselves,” Dr. Lazrus observed. “Exposing the students to researchers from different backgrounds is key to our making progress in this effort.”

Workshops also explored topics such as the effect of toxic chemicals on behavior and the ways the brain connects with the nervous system. “These activities are invaluable to young women,” said Diane Hardej ’95G, ’03Ph.D., Associate Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences. “They get to engage with professors and students, which helps to ease any intimidation they might feel.”

Pamela Gregory-Fernandez, an Associate Professor in Clinical Health Professions, hopes her presentation serves as a catalyst for the students. “I’d like it to help fuel their fire,” she said. “I want them to keep it burning and growing so that they emerge through their teenage years as confident young ladies ready to embrace a role in research and discovery.”

Being inspired at an early age is important for young women who are interested in the sciences, noted Rahanna Kham '19P, a toxicology major at St. John’s who volunteered at the event. “When I was their age, I had a teacher who really pushed girls to pursue research in a lab,” she said. “That’s why I love this program. It’s important to nurture their interest.”