When Sarah Brock saw she was among the minority of women in her college classes, she decided to take action. With the help of JMU, the sophomore biophysical chemistry major is providing middle and high schoolers in Harrisonburg with authentic female role models in STEM to address the declining rate of women in the field.
Students Leading Engagement Activities’ mini-grants, a project administered by the Faculty Senate and partnered with SGA, allows students to apply for project funding up to $5,000 to further JMU’s vision. Brock is one of the eight 2018-19 recipients who’s received funding from the university to make a difference.
“I got to college where there’s supposed to be more girls, but the statistics are still the same,” Brock said. “I’ve always been interested in trying to get younger girls interested in STEM, then I saw there was an opportunity to have money to do this.”
While over half the college-educated workforce is comprised of women, only 25 percent are in the STEM field according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. After interviewing and taking portraits of different women in STEM majors at JMU, Brock plans to create a website and hang up posters around middle and high schools in Harrisonburg to show young girls that people like them can succeed in math and science fields. She also plans on hosting an assembly and eventually developing mentorships with local girls.
With her mom as a math teacher, Brock grew up having a strong role model in STEM. Brock believes that negative portrayals in the media are skewing how middle and high school girls view women in the field.
“I am just trying to shift the image of what a girl in STEM is like,” Brock said. “I think that’s why middle school girls are losing interest in STEM, because they can’t identify with that type of persona. You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Emma Laney, another winner, is taking her engagement project to new countries. The senior communications and Spanish double major is leading a group of five other girls from Sigma Delta Pi, her Spanish honor society, to do philanthropy in Guatemala.
“I’m a huge believer in when you see something, that’s when it becomes real,” Laney said. “I thought the mini-grant would be a great opportunity for JMU students who typically come from middle-class areas to see what poverty actually looks like, and show them that the efforts that they actually do to fundraise here can make a difference in someone else’s life.”
Laney has been volunteering every summer in Guatemala since she was 12 and started speaking Spanish at age 5. Because of her familiarity with the culture, she’s now preparing the girls who’ll go with her to adjust to any culture shock that might come with visiting poverty-stricken areas. Their trip will last for two weeks in May.
“Everyone who goes down there kind of sees the need for help in a different way,” Laney said. “For example, some people might say, ‘Oh they need more backpacks, they need more school supplies,’ while others would see a very different need. I can’t wait to see how the girls see a need and bring it back to JMU.”
For online graduate student Carlie Louine Madsen, her engagement project is her way of staying connected to campus while living in Northern Virginia. Madsen’s project funds online training to 13 of the 15 people in her graduate program’s cohort. The funding will offset costs of training to administer voice treatment to Parkinson’s patients.
“We aren’t the typical students... but despite the distance that we have and despite our diverse background, we can have a united and meaningful learning experience together,” Madsen, who's working toward her master's in speech pathology, said.
People with Parkinson's disease often speak quietly and don't realize it, and Madsen’s grant will provide the graduate students with additional Parkinson’s speech pathology training outside of that offered in their classes.
“I love that the SGA saw value in my project,” Madsen said. “We are ambitious people who are taking the time in our life — a lot of us have families, a lot of us are military families, and we have husbands and kids and jobs — but we also want to have meaningful learning experiences.”
Because the graduate program is online, many of the women in Madsen’s cohort are spread across the country — some as far as California. Madsen believes that because the cohort is so dispersed, the funding from their mini-grant will reach and help far corners of the country.
“That’s the power and uniqueness that the non-traditional online student offers,” Madsen said. “We are far away and distant from the university, but it feels nice to have the university see value in what we can learn and engage in together.”
Contact Mary Harrison at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.