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“My concern was that we have a tech world, and women are going to be excluded because they aren’t exposed to all the available opportunities in science. I wanted them to see the opportunities.”
Cynthia Barnett loved teaching science to her elementary school students during the 1970s in Norwalk, Conn. Science not only gave the children an opportunity for hands-on learning through experiments, Barnett says, but also presented a chance to incorporate other skills, like reading, research and problem-solving. “It was fun and educational,” says the 74-year-old, who retired from the Norwalk school system in 2003.
But six years into retired life, Barnett was inspired by an article she read to introduce young girls to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, which could lead to lucrative careers. With tech jobs growing at a fast clip, girls were being left behind. Women earn half of the nation’s bachelor’s degrees in science and math, but they receive far fewer degrees in subjects like computer science and engineering — where they are awarded 18 percent and 19 percent of the degrees, respectively.
Women hold only about 25 percent of the country’s 9 million STEM jobs, a trend that is expected to continue if the gender gap is not addressed. “My concern was that we have a tech world, and women are going to be excluded because they aren’t exposed to all the available opportunities in science,” says Barnett. “I wanted them to see the opportunities.”
Barnett had a head start on her mission, as she had created a coed, STEM-focused nonprofit in 1996 called Saturday Academy. This time, renamed Amazing Girls Science, it would serve girls only and would mark its reemergence with a daylong science conference in 2009. Barnett says she didn’t know if anyone would attend; then 100 girls came to the community college where it was held. “I was just so excited,” recalls the mother of three daughters in their 40s, one of whom is a middle school assistant principal.