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ASU professor promotes more inclusive STEM books for children

Books and other forms of media aimed at youth preach a message of inclusion in STEM


"ASU faculty members aim to promote more inclusive science books for children." Illustration published on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017

Evan Scannapieco, an associate professor at the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration, is reaching out to other ASU community members to form a network aimed at developing more inclusive science books for children. 

Scannapieco helped his former student, Gabriela Della Corna publish "Susie Stars" for her senior honors project. "Susie Stars" was a book designed to appeal to young girls and teach them about outer space. 

Scannapieco became curious about how toys and books are marketed to children because he is raising two sons and found that while many science books are marketed towards boys, there are far fewer marketed toward girls.

“I’m just a parent that wants to help,” Scannapieco said. 

He also said he would like to see young women like his nieces be just as interested in science as his sons. 

After talking with colleagues at a STEM Equity Exchange in West Hall on Nov. 7, Scannapieco began trying to develop books that appeal to boys and girls while encouraging boys to view girls as intellectual equals. 

“While we do want to create more books that appeal to young girls and make them see themselves in these positions, we also want to create a product that boys will want to read and let them see these girls in these positions,” Karla Moeller, a senior educational outreach specialist for the ASU Office of the University Provost, said.

Moeller said there are a lot of social issues that discourage girls from pursuing STEM careers as they grow up.

“It's perpetuated throughout education," Moeller said. "I think that giving the girls a direct message, but also creating messages for boys about the girls, is important." 

Statistics posted on the National Girls Collaborative Project website show that while girls score just as high and, a lot of times, higher than boys in standardized testing, far fewer women pursue careers in computer science engineering than men. 

The same statistics show that the number of men and women in other STEM fields are relatively equal as of 2016. However, there is far more inequality in STEM fields when it comes to racial and economic background. 

graph from National Science Board

Most of the attendees of the equity exchange on Nov. 7 were faculty and staff that are either working or have worked on projects similar to the one Scannapieco worked on with Della Corna. 

They realized that one of the biggest challenges when trying to represent a minority in a product is making sure the product is not perceived as exclusive for that minority. 

“You want to appeal to everybody while showing the success of different types of people,” Scannapieco said. 

Moeller works with Charles Kazilek, chief technology officer for the Office of the University Provost on a project called Ask a Biologist. Ask a Biologist is a website designed primarily as a learning tool for K-12 students focused on science. 

The characters in one of its latest comics are based on real children and represent boys, girls and various ethnicities. Kazilek told the group that a lot of media is consumed via smart devices, and said digital content can be very a very powerful tool to teach and promote inclusion. 

“A lot of media consumption is being done on devices," Kazilek said. "We don’t even have to go print sometimes."

He also said visual art can very effectively deliver messages about gender equality and racial equality to children. 

The Stem Equity Exchange series is hosted by ASU’s Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology

The exchange on Nov. 7 brought together like-minded members of the ASU community. It was intended to encourage them to collaborate on their individual projects to promote gender and racial equality through children's books and other types of media. 

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