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ASU's Women in STEM Club beats the odds, encourages a new generation

The STEM club won a Woodside Community Action Grant to fund educational outreach for children in Arizona public schools

(Left to right) Megumi Sharma, Farizah Ali and Phoebe Newell pose for a photo at the Woodside Community Action Grant banquet held at Old Main on Monday, April 10, 2017. 

(Left to right) Megumi Sharma, Farizah Ali and Phoebe Newell pose for a photo at the Woodside Community Action Grant banquet held at Old Main on Monday, April 10, 2017. 

ASU’s Women in STEM student organization advanced its goal to introduce girls to fields in science, technology, engineering and math by winning the Woodside Community Action Grant from Changemaker Central, said Farizah Ali, the club's co-president.

The $1,200 grant will fund the club's educational outreach to Gililland Middle School in Tempe, as well as Harris Elementary School in Mesa twice a month.

“With girls in middle school especially, we are trying to build up their confidence to know that they can do these things if they want to,” Ali said.  

Ali leads the club's Project STEM Inspire, which won the Woodside Grant.

According to a report from Columbia University, college instructors are less likely to call on women in class, and women are less likely to participate in these programs on their own. Ali said these trends demonstrate female students’ lack of confidence in STEM fields.

However, society and media have also contributed to low female employment in STEM fields as well, Ali said.

“You just don’t see too many portrayals of strong women in STEM,” she said. “That’s something that’s being fixed, but it’s not there in the first place.”

Women only account for 24 percent of STEM employment, despite comprising 48 percent of all employment, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In addition to the educational outreach, Women in STEM has teamed up with ASU’s Women in Computer Science student organization to set up a women in STEM careers conference next fall semester, Ali said.

The group plans to have speakers from a variety of fields, Ali said, ranging from orthopedic surgery to computer science.

Although she has not felt personally attacked for her choice of major, Ali said people still insinuate she ought to be factoring in having a family with going to school.

“I feel like that isn’t asked to men all the time,” Ali said.

Winter Roth, vice president of the club’s educational advocacy for women and a sophomore in biochemistry at ASU, has faced similar adversity in STEM fields, she said.

“I’ve had boys go up to my boyfriend and tell him how they can’t understand how he can date me and date someone who is smarter than him,” Roth said.

People often find her science-mindedness intimidating, she said.

“You tend to work a lot harder … you know that you need to be even more above everyone else so people will take you seriously,” Roth said.

Still, Roth was satisfied with her studies and that they contributed to thought processes outside of science as well.

“It changes the way you look at things,” Roth said. “I’m a lot more analytical when determining what I’m going to do next compared to my roommate and my other friends in other types of majors.”

Roth wanted to share this information with other women, she said.

“I did after-school programs all my years in elementary, middle and high school, and I really think it shaped the type of person I was," Roth said. "So I wanted to provide that to the kids coming up now."

The Woodside grant will go toward funding this outreach effort.

“It’s peers supporting peers, which is kind of the vision of Changemaker,” said Lindsay Dusard, Woodside Community Action Grant chairwoman and a senior studying public policy.

Dusard recommended amounts of funding to allocate to each project that passed the grant’s first round — a panel of 25 ASU student judges.

Afterward, Senior Advisor Migs Woodside, whose endowment pays for the grant, determines the final award amount.

This year, 19 student organizations won a Woodside grant.

“We believe in women in STEM and empowering them, and we think it is a really pressing need in our communities, especially in low-income and underrepresented schools,” Dusard said. “I think they are doing incredible work in providing the opportunity for students to be exposed … to those different career paths.”

Reach the reporter at or @coreyhawkJMC.

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