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STEM for Girls

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the position of the United States as a global leader, in science, engineering and innovation is threatened as fewer students are pursuing degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Southwestern is trying to change that, and Professor of Chemistry Emily Niemeyer is leading the way. Instrumental in helping Southwestern transform its science curriculum with help from a $1.3 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Niemeyer now serves as co-director of the HHMI-funded Southwestern Inquiry Initiative.

“Nationally,” Niemeyer says, “persistence in science (sticking with the program) is a challenge; at Southwestern, it is particularly challenging for women.” With that in mind, Niemeyer works hard to keep all of her students engaged by introducing cooperative and group work in the classroom, and offering one-on-one research opportunities early on. She says these things help to create excitement, commitment and understanding, which in turn help students to stick with science, even when they have a “crisis of confidence.”

croppedFor her efforts and commitment to science, and for encouraging her female students in particular to do their best and keep going, Niemeyer was recognized in 2013 as a role model to young women hoping to pursue careers in math and science. She was one of six women named Outstanding Texas Women in STEM by Girlstart, a organization that offers after-school programming to encourage girls in grades 4-8 to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Girlstart—although similar to Stephen Foster’s company, ThoughtSTEM (see “Teaching Kids to Code”)—is specifically geared toward girls and is less focused on coding.

While Niemeyer is now very involved with Girlstart, she says that even before she received her award from the group, the organization had begun recruiting Southwestern students (primarily education majors) to work as members of their “STEM CREW” (Creative, Resourceful, Empowered Women), teaching after-school workshops at local elementary schools.

Niemeyer has been a member of the Southwestern faculty since 1998, and is currently the Herbert and Kate Dishman Chair in Science. She has received Southwestern’s Excellence in Academic Advising Award and the Exemplary Teaching Award from the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Story by Kristina Moore

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