education, gender equity, girls, media, science, stem

This heroic new kids show focuses on science and diversity

As first published in Amberly Magazine, June 2020 with additions on May 31st, 2020

When I used to work for PBS, one of the most anticipated events was the launch of a new TV series.  On June 1st, coming to your airwaves, iPads, and living rooms is Hero Elementary, a new show that combines science and literacy.  Hero Elementary features a set of five main characters and their teacher, all taking place in the learning environment known as Hero Elementary.  Four students (Lucita, Benny, Sara and AJ) have been accepted into a new class with Mr. Sparks and the class pet, Fur Blur.  Each of the students has a superpower of some type, with a catch.  They are still LEARNING how to use their gifts of flight, teleportation, bubble making, and gadgetry. In addition, their trusty teacher is always helping them solve big problems with their own “superpowers of science.”

Filled with cute (and memorable) songs and short clips in each episode, called “How to Hero,” showing real-life kids doing science at home. Hero Elementary has two very unique elements for a PBS series. First, there hasn’t been a show since Sid the Science Kid that has taken place in a school.  Imagine how powerful this is…to have a teacher and surroundings that your kids can immediately put into their imaginations about how to go to school and use their own superpowers of science. It exposes us – the audience – to how inquiry-led scientific questions can happen and how to help our children be inquisitive and let their curiosity lead their learning. If you’re four years-old and about ready to enter Kindergarten soon, this show can help get your kids excited about the transition.  

Second, AJ Gadgets is a character whose behavior sits on the autism spectrum. Only a handful of TV shows have a main character who lives with autism.  AJ’s sensitivities (he doesn’t like to be wet) and self-care (he always has his backpack and earphones) are only one aspect of his personality as a gadget inventor and vital part of Hero Elementary, a win for diversity and inclusion in what media our kids consume.  

As parents might note, there are Black, Brown, White and Asian characters at Hero Elementary. Mr. Sparks is Hispanic and the show’s assets (educational materials and more) are translated into Spanish.  There are numerous advisors and staff on the show who, like me, have a focus on equity in their daily work and the show’s research and outreach (prior to the TV show debut) has focused mainly on low-income children, a place where TPT and PBS are devoted to making an impact.

And what does it take to make a show like this?  I’ve been an advisor on the show for almost five years now along with a wonderful team from diverse education, research and media backgrounds. From idea to production, it’s likely a minimum of 4 to 4.5 years. Animated episodes, which run 11 minutes and are done in pairs, take about 40 weeks to produce, from idea to script, animation to voice over, captioning and distributing to a national platform like PBS.  So, each episode of Hero Elementary has been carefully crafted, created by teams who love and are inspired by science, envision the games, characters and curriculum your kids love from some of the best producers, game makers, educational researchers and media talents in the business. You’ll find a full complement of games, a science journal, podcasts and, of course, the TV show at PBS Kids as well as on the Twin Cities Public Television website

I wanted to add a little about the extensive set of 10+ games created around the show. The first game to be showcased is about seasons, and more are coming about animals, early physics, nature and science journaling. PBS Kids will likely rotate games on the site just as they do videos. Games tend to be one of the most used educational tools of any PBS show and Hero Elementary’s online gaming is super for early learners.

I encourage you follow the show on Facebook/HeroElementary or Twitter @HeroElementary to find out more. If you are an educator reading this, you’ll also be able to access curriculum resources either for the summer or for next school year already on

Hero Elementary debuts on PBS on June 1st!  Sparks Crew to the Rescue! 

education, leadership, media, stem

Penny Bauder interviews Jennifer Stancil about her work in STEM during COVID-19

Originally published in Authority Magazine, Medium and Thrive Global in April 2020. How Jennifer Stancil tackles the extreme work life balance of being a woman in STEM during COVID-19, an interview with Penny Bauder, from her series about executive women across STEM disciplines.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today.  Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place. 

As a part of my series about  how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Stancil

Jennifer Stancil is an innovative and visionary C-Suite executive, sought after national speaker, and founder of The Hello Studios. As a specialist in start-up non-profits, particularly those aligned with museum environments, she excels by leading teams to not just strive for, but establish transformative practices in informal education. An Emmy-winning media producer and educator, former advisor to the Obama White House’s Women and Girls Council, and long-time advocate for equity in STEM, Jennifer Stancil is currently the Board Chair of the National Girls Collaborative Project. 

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?  

As a scientist and catalyst, I use my experience to transform the way we see STEM – as a literacy, as a value, as a pathway to a future that’s unknown and unknowable. I help others value how STEM makes a real difference in their lives while advocating that STEM is accessible to everyone.  Thus, I’ve spent more than 15 years of my career in museums, building and sustaining these cultural institutions where millions walk away inspired to know more. I was fortunate to have a five-year detour working in media, where I was able to understand far more about the importance of early childhood education, especially since I was at WQED, the home of Mister Rogers Neighborhood.  It also prepared me for this disruptive time in the educational industry, ensuring that we are always looking toward new technologies, platforms to express our voices, ways to tell our stories, and inventing new methods of learning for the 21st century. 

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?   Over the last 18 months, I’ve been involved in the world of media as it crosses over with learning.  So, from helping with the education and marketing of a new PBS TV show focused on STEM (Hero Elementary launching in the summer), to working with the Lyda Hill Philanthropies IF/THEN project to promote girls going into STEM careers, I’m really working to aid girls’ perception of who can be a scientist.  In my favorite case, I worked with Amazon Studios as they released the movie, Troop Zero, which focuses on a girl whose moxie to get her voice recorded by NASA and shot into space is a treasure.  I was thrilled to be able to be in the Rose Parade on their float promoting the movie in my first public act as Board Chair of the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP).  What a moment!  

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?  Absolutely.  I’m really focused on an educationally rich summer for kids across the nation.  I’ve just been reviewing grants to give to high school and college girls who teach CS in their community through the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).  We are also, as a part of NGCP, working with the World Science Festival on innovative STEM programming for the summer months.  Both organizations are already wildly successful leveraging online learning, and we’re working on solutions for middle school kids to get some really high quality science learning this summer after not being in school.  

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?  

In my first real job in a museum, I had just moved to the South.  I had lived my entire life – college, grad school – in my hometown, Lincoln, NE.  All of the sudden, I was in my own place, with a job, running a small museum, writing grants, and helping design the experiences for a new museum about to open.  In those moments, my boss, Dwight Downs, was incredibly generous. I was creative yes, but also arrogant.  I was eager, yes, but I was also really naive as to how office cultures worked. I was ambitious and passionate, and I seemed to need to always be right. In those several years, I was treated like a plant taking root, nurtured beyond belief, able to allow my imagination to guide me, but also gently to learn how to be a better colleague and boss, while not shying away from innovation.  Now, I really make an effort to replicate that to others that I mentor – giving them a chance to grow into their own voice so they can lean in to their own unique contributions. 

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today.  Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in  STEM during this pandemic? 

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?  I find it easy to write curriculum and have been sharing free, quality resources on my social platforms.  So, I wrote a curriculum for my daughter, but soon found out how my daughter’s learning style isn’t always a great compliment to my open-ended, project based approaches.  So, with a teen in the second half of her 7th grade year, life is a negotiation.  But listening is essential to good negotiation, and I’ve tried to do a LOT more listening. It was an important moment in her own self-advocacy to share what she needed. It wasn’t hard to make adjustments that she advocated for, like working on a subject all day long and with focused intent, instead of over many days. It’s her having to own her school work, not me. 

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in  STEM during this pandemic?  Managing the unknown can derail your day.  How long will we be out of school?  When will museums open again so I can be instrumental in building them back to their capacity and possibly join a new company in the fall? When can I let my child hug her friends and family and not just FaceTime them? 

I believe that gratitude short-circuits many of the catabolic feelings that sap your energy to even begin to focus your mind – on your latest blog, helping a neighbor, moving forward a business proposition.  That means using apps like “3  Good Things,” listening to a favorite song, or just stating “I’m so thankful right now for….” really helps.  

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges? Noticing is such a superpower.   Noticing, being aware and present in the moment, means that the smell of that newly blooming azalea isn’t lost on you, or how the sun is coming through your window makes you remember that summer vacation at the beach . . . We’re relishing our memories too and calling up a lot of old videos of our family, to great effect.  

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?  Our top priority the entire time has been to give ourselves a lot of grace.  This is an unprecedented time, one that will have a noticeable before and after. Change is happening so rapidly that we first prioritize ourselves. . . if we need to read a book, take a walk, or call a friend, that overrides our agreed upon schedule.  I am also taking a step back from my impatience. I’m really trying to give everyone – work, home, school, family – the space they need to adjust to this time of sequestering.  

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?  We are audiophiles around here.  We center ourselves with music and sound. . . our records, sharing songs and making playlists for one another, listening to podcasts, and my absolute favorite, listening to the 2019 compilation “America’s Best Short Stories” on Audible. 

My secret weapon is if I’m really off kilter, I will ask my daughter to take her shower during the day, so I can hear her sing while I do my work.  

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective  can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each. 

My top five:

  1. This disruption in education will absolutely accelerate our thinking about how to teach everyone. I watched an entire school district on video, Franklin Regional in Pittsburgh, describe how they turned into a 1:1 laptop district in 10 days.  It was nothing short of extraordinary. 

2. I’m seeing systems right now being more nimble than ever before.  In the chaos, small and local is working beautifully, but so are larger systems that are willing to pivot.  If Dyson, best known for vacuums, can engineer a portable ventilator in under two weeks, that is simply a remarkable feat and a great use of STEM talent.  

3. People are finding out how to be useful in a new way – they are rethinking their ability to contribute to a larger movement and society with their own passion. While I’m privy to a lot of communities of makers and their manufacturing of PPE out of homes, businesses, and with academia, I am most blown away by the high schooler who taught himself to code and created a tracker for COVID-19 that was a truly reliable global tracker that rivaled trackers of many governmental organizations. 

4. Your nap game is strong right now. 

5. We’ve had to all exercise our resilience and think of technology in a different way, serving a different and essential purpose in our lives in order to keep us strong.  It’s that kind of imagination that will catapult us forward. . . whether it’s about how we gather to talk, celebrate birthdays or even meditate on Zoom, rely on the collections of museums to inspire us through an VR tour, or use games in both soothing and social ways.  And that this call for our resilience is happening, not in one place, not in one country, but around the entire globe, means to me that our resilience is going to be revolutionary to our world as we know it. 

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones  who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?   Because of my work in the education space, I naturally blur the lines between formal and informal education.  My number one recommendation is that the whole day is an opportunity to learn.  So identifying the flora and fauna (and maybe even logging it on a citizen science app) during a walk in the woods is as much a science lesson as a worksheet you downloaded from school.  Likewise, letting your child appropriately engage with the pandemic as much as they want is an exercise in geography, visual and mathematical literacy, and civics. This may be a time when you see your child flourish in pushing their own learning and having agency over themselves via their curiosity.  

Can you please give us your favorite  “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life? 

This quote really speaks to me, today and always.  It’s a great time to reconnect with what’s truly important to you. 

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.

-Joseph Campbell

How can our readers follow you online? I’m at for my blog, and I post all the time on Linked In (/jenstancil)  and twitter (@jenstancil). 

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

art, gender equity, media, science, stem

STEM+ART resources to combine creativity and science during quarantine

Interview originally appeared in Magnet Byte with additions on this blog

Jen, tell us a little about you and your unique background?

For almost 25 years, I’ve been involved in the world of out-of-school time education, primarily leading science centers and children’s museums, as well as working with PBS and its producers. My volunteer gig for 2020 embraces my advocacy for equity, as I’m the Chair of the Board for the National Girls Collaborative Project. 

How do art and STEM intertwine?

I personally have always seen them as integral to one another. And I think that design thinking is a perfect application that leverages the best of both worlds. Science is inherently painting a canvas over time with experimentation, failure and knowing. 

Why now, especially?  

I am constantly reading and as the Coronavirus struck, the entire museum industry and all of our out-of-school time partners (like scouting organizations, robotics clubs) and PBS started to find ways to communicate to kids. 

But the communication to adults was all about calm – sharing beauty, art, photographs, and videos – and that then became a strategy we used at home. The Louvre and other art museums stepped up to make their collections available through digitally. And then, music and people playing music across the world with each other using technology. It was a universal salvo and it has become both our immediate and sustaining response to the pandemic.  

So, as we find ourselves here today, among kids who thrive at their Digital Magnet school and learn design thinking and utilize technology, it’s important to talk about the inspiration of art fueling that. 

What are your recommendations for other parents not only now, but for the summer?  

Here are some of my favorite apps, video compilers, You Tube channels, and other resources.  They aren’t in any particular order so explore as you wish! 

  1. I’m really a fan of the video compiler The Kid Should See This.”  Every week I get the top five videos of the week emailed to me. So whether it’s a time lapse of Jeff Koons new Play Doh sculpture, a slo-mo of a beetle taking flight, silly Rube Goldberg set ups and hilarious DIY’s, there are 4,500 videos that will knock your kids socks off. 
  2. I am enamored with Vi Hart, who started publishing her math doodles as a teen. Her YouTube is full of great videos like the Hexaflexagons (folding and geometry) or a video called Spirals, Fibonacci and being a plant.  Sure to captivate.
  3. You might already love Garage Band, but I love the super easy Chrome Music Lab to do your music experiments and composing. You can also use tools like OIID from that also specializes in an App called Groove Pizza.  I’m in!
  4. Close to home, the North Carolina Museum of Art has been putting out an amazing weekly meditation on a piece of their art. A holistic curriculum approach through the lens of one piece in their collection, it’s world class. 
  5. Before we started back to online curriculum, our Art and Imagination day involved watching videos from the PBS of Japan, NHK. Check out Design Ah! by starting with “Chairs” and go from there as you learn exactly what we mean by a “designed world.”  
  6. Two great new apps we’ve just started using – AR Makr (free) and Procreate ($10) for drawing and creating.  

Our good friends in Pittsburgh stream a wonderful music show every Saturday called the Saturday Light Brigade. Puzzles, music, stories – all for kids and often performed by kids – pepper this internationally award-winning broadcast.

Here is a graphic to download and share on your social media from this article!!!


Girls, Media and the Scully effect

This is the second of two related blogs based on a recent speech at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham! Let’s dive in!

It was an incredible International Women’s Day!  I spent the day at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham where I gave two speeches about Girls and STEM that I’ll recap here.  As we are still celebrating women in the month of March AND we are looking to new resources for our kids during the COVID-19 outbreak, here’s a perfect set of resources for your TWEEN and TEEN.

My second speech, Girls, Media and the Scully Effect, was focused on girls over 8 years old.  It focused on sharing the context of why STEM is important, but also the distance we are from true equity in the field.  As a matter of fact, 8 is great, and 9 is fine, but after that, we see confidence gaps plaguing girls in middle and high school. Thus, our discussions focused on the visual cues that girls get through media, and how those clues can lead them to higher degrees of confidence and a deeper STEM identity.    

In reviewing the SciGirls Strategies (that a group of really talented people from diverse parts of the equity ecosystem, myself included) helped update the strategies that have so effectively been used for more than a decade with teachers to include newer research.  Our focal question was “What does science look like and who is it for?” so that we can emphasize that if a girl can see it, she can be it, when it comes to a cool STEM career that can also help her change the world.

In that frame, those six strategies were given paraphrases by me and for this talk, I focused on the discussion of real science, role models, and agency…the confidence to go forward in STEM even in the face of difficulty. We centered on the IF/THEN project, one that has selected 125 new faces of science to spread the word that diversity in science is the key to solving our greatest challenges.  These women show that STEM can take you anywhere and the media that’s being produced around it meets girls exactly where they are. Focusing on real people (and not animations) I talked about how powerful media can be, and offered all kinds of new videos and website that are geared for girls.  It obviously was powerful for many practicing scientists today, 63% of which say that the fictional character Dana Scully from the X-Files influenced their career choices. You can read more of this ground breaking research here at The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. 

Embedded above and below are some of the resources and references I offered.  

Finally, don’t forget The Connectory, the largest database of programs for girls and boys in the United States.  It’s a program of the National Girls Collaborative Project, of which I am the proud Board Chair for 2020. It will connect you to not just the network of programs to support your kids, but entire organizations and networks near you fighting for equity.  Later in 2020, the National Girls Collaborative will be housing the profile collections of all 125 STEM ambassadors from the IF/THEN project!  

Click above to see the slide deck from my speech or you can connect with me and I’ll send you the voice recording.  As always, feel free to reach out to me via email if you have questions or would like introductions. 

Hands on toys/subscriptions/artifacts

Project Mc Squared

Kiwi and Co. boxes

Local libraries

TV shows

Project Mc Squared

Fast Forward Girls

Design Squad

Mission Unstoppable


Research and Context

The Girls’ Index (STEM)

The STEM Effect

Soc of Women Engineers

Geena Davis Institute

Books, Websites and More


Fab Fems (find a STEM role model)

The Kid Should See This

iQ: smartparent (many episodes about STEM)


Parenting a STEM girl!

This is the first of two related blogs based on a speech at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham! Let’s dive in!

It was an incredible International Women’s Day!  I spent the day at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham where I gave two speeches about Girls and STEM that I’ll recap here. 

My first speech, Parenting a STEM girl, was focused on girls under 8 years old.  It focused on sharing the context of why STEM is important, but also the distance we are from true equity in the field.  I suggested that these narratives about STEM and girls are written early, sharing a study about how girls, but not boys, in Kindergarten absorb the math anxieties of their teachers.  

In reviewing the SciGirls Strategies (that a group of really talented people from diverse parts of the equity ecosystem, myself included) helped update the strategies that have so effectively been used for more than a decade with teachers to include newer research.  

In that frame, those six strategies were given paraphrases by me and for this talk, I focused on three, namely the ones that would give girls “all the feels” at a young age.  I discussed with parents the need for physical, mental, emotional and personal engagement through books, videos, characters, and LOTS of hands-on experimentation. I shared a tease of the new PBS show, Hero Elementary, and talked a lot about how parents can take charge during both the in-school and out-of-school time their girls spend doing STEM.  

Embedded above and below are some of the resources and references I offered.  

Finally, don’t forget The Connectory, the largest database of programs for girls and boys in the United States.  It’s a program of the National Girls Collaborative Project, of which I am the proud Board Chair for 2020. It will connect you to not just the network of programs to support your kids, but entire organizations and networks near you fighting for equity. 

Click the download button to see the slide deck from my speech and as always, feel free to reach out to me via email if you have questions or would like introductions.

Hands on toys/subscriptions/artifacts


Kiwi and Co. boxes

Local libraries

TV shows

Peg + Cat 

Odd Squad


Doc McStuffins

Research and Context

The Girls’ Index (STEM)

The STEM Effect

Soc of Women Engineers

Geena Davis Institute

Books, Websites and More

The Rosie Revere, Engineer Book Series


The Kid Should See This

iQ: smartparent (many episodes about STEM)

books, media

Parenting Fast Forward: Why kids will lean on imagination to shape the next decade

photo by masai koisumi at net play works
photo by masai koisumi for net play works

Welcome 2020! When your toddler gets to the end of this decade, they’ll be headed to middle school and your middle schooler – well they’ll be well into their adult life, just coming out of college. How do we prepare to raise our kids in the next decade?  What tools are going to be critical to the health and wellbeing of Gen Z and those in a new generation not yet named? While I don’t have the secret recipe, I have a few key tools that I think will help.

Media Savvy

When I created the TV show, iQ: smartparent for PBS stations across the nation, I was interested in exploring the intersection of media and learning. These days, I’m not only immersed in that, but in the intersection of media and identity.  Gen Z is both the most diverse, digitally savvy, connected generation ever with 96% owning cell phones and kids spending a good portion of their waking hours connected to a device. Here are the two sides of that coin. 

First, consumption.  This is where I have trusted a source like Common Sense Media repeatedly over the past decade and it hasn’t let me down. It’s one thing if you just want to see if Back to the Future is something your 10 and 12 year old can handle. It’s another thing to have a secret source to find out what the heck TikTok is and why it’s all your kiddo talks about.  (TikTok is an app that combines Vine with where kids put their short videos to music and hilarity ensues.) With summer movie handbooks, searchable reviews and a ton of great advice, you and your kids can make decisions together.

Second, creation. When I speak to young people, I often remind them that media today is so democratized that anyone can use the platform to magnify their voice. Storytelling is a skill that every child in this generation is going to hone online and off.  As a generation surrounded with opportunity to explain and be heard for who they are, this could be our most accepting and inclusive generation ever.


If you have not yet read Michele Borba’s book, Unselfie, get it on your nightstand or Audible feed now. With a rise in bullying, Michele’s book explains both at a high level and in workbook-like prescriptive to dos, how empathy is the soft skill for the next decade. Michele recounts how empathy short-circuits the negative array of bombarding imagery, behavior, and environmental systems built to disconnect us from emoting with others by putting ourselves in their shoes.


The same can be said of Angela Duckworth’s focus on resilience in her book, Grit.  Those of us in formal and informal education are striving to recast educational experiences that allow children to “fail forward” in their education. That means that they learn as much from their mistakes as they do from their successes and it is this resilience, paired with a concept called the Growth Mindset, that you’ll be seeing sweep across schools in the next several years. 


A few years ago, I delivered a keynote to educators, academics and parents entitled The Imagination Generation.  I suggest that, in a world where many things are automated, sensory and intelligent, it’s going to be imagination that will be responsible for revolutionary leaps.  So, what made the iPad (released on April 3rd, 2010) the most prolific invention of the ‘10s has everything to do with imagining what you could do or where you could go that is impossible today. That theme will continue for most of this decade if not this century.  Our next revolutions are going to be built by our kids and for that, they need to be wildly imaginative, heavily inspired by making, art, role play, and their own dreams. Being a great parent involves keeping that imagination on fire as they grow so today’s kids can be the architects of a successful and bright future.  

First Published in Amberly Newsletter, January 2020


Scully, Sylvia and the girl next door

We know there are disparities for women in STEM. A new initiative takes a new approach to leveling the playing field for every girl.  

In mid-October, a group of women and girls gathered in Dallas for the IF/THEN Summit. There was a tornado outside, and inside, another storm was brewing – a storm to change the face of science forever. This charge, led by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and AAAS, with a key assist from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the National Girls Collaborative Project, has everything to do with putting women at the front of media, research, and the teen girls who they believe can change the world by embracing STEM careers. 

Laura Bush, Lyda Hill, Geena Davis, and Nicole Small

(Left to right) Laura Bush, Lyda Hill, Geena Davis, and Nicole Small

Earlier this year, Lyda Hill provided a $25 million dollar gift to spark a STEM revolution. Soon 125 IF/THEN Ambassadors were chosen from around the nation, representing some of the most diverse STEM professionals on the planet. Women of immensely representative backgrounds made their way to meet each other, welcomed as the next superstars of science. In the same week with the first all-female spacewalk in “herstory”, the energy was electric, positive, and grateful. 

“We know if you show a little girl what women in STEM are accomplishing today THEN she too can be a force for change. If she can see it, she can be it,” says Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Over four days, the scientists, activities, entrepreneurs, and academics would meet each other, go through a social media boot camp, be inspired by legendary scientists like Sylvia Earle and their peers, and develop an electronic press kit that will help them share their stories in the coming year. They are even getting their own 3-D printed statues. This media juggernaut is complemented by other key initiatives meant to raise the visibility of women in science. Namely, a series of commercials are now airing across TV from the Ad Council showing little girls finding out what scientists do day to day; a reality show where a girl chooses a mentor for life in Fast-Forward Girls; and a new Saturday morning TV show called Mission Unstoppable, executive produced IF/THEN, the Geena Davis Institute, and Miranda Cosgrove and featuring some of the women mentors in the show. During the conference, the women were empowered with an opportunity to apply for grants to realize even more outreach in their communities. 

IF/THEN Ambassadors

All the work is heavily based in research. This is where Dana Scully and Sylvia Earle come in. The initiative seems steeped in three types of research – equity, media, and academic. First, there is a ton of equity research in the mix here about when girls are most vulnerable to eschewing STEM careers. That research includes what girls need (mentors, tools) to discover careers that don’t yet exist. That’s why Karen Peterson of NGCP and Suzanne Harper of Girls Scouts presented their take on girls’ vulnerability to dropping out of science in 2nd/3rd grades, 6th grade, and 9th grade especially. Suzanne presented a model based on research and practice by the Girl Scouts about how girls’ leadership manifests itself in community action, a strong sense of self and a love of seeking out challenges. But how do we get to those outcomes? Karen presented the enormous platforms of The Connectory (a searchable, national directory of STEM opportunities for youth) as well as Fab Fems (a national directory of female STEM role models) and introduced the newly updated SciGirls Strategies, whose techniques are used to train thousands of educators. The ambassadors press kits will be available online in the IF/THEN Collection with more than 2,000 assets (pictures, videos, bios, 3D scans) that will be free and accessible to nonprofit and educational institutions.

Research about girls was combined with a second type focused on the media’s representation of girls and women.  By the numbers, we have at least 50% of the workforce as women yet 24% of women make up the STEM workforce. In the media, 37% of the characters portrayed in STEM fields are women yet a whopping 63% of them say their single inspiration for being a scientist today was… Dana Scully. The initiative will seek to blend the two… making these new researchers the real-life role models that you can see on TV. Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall didn’t have those platforms when they started out. They are heroes and icons, and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media suggests that we need far more of them represented in TV and movies as well. Then, maybe we can have rooms full of influential STEM women who change the world at every turn. As Sylvia Earle said herself, “we not only have power, we have superpower.”

Finally, the third type of research, academic research, seemed to play a key role in the IF/THEN Initiative. It seems that Lyda herself has spent decades funding research – edgy, new, adventurous research. So, playing second fiddle to the scientists themselves are fantastic research scenarios that visually represent well on TV and social platforms. The research straddles all fields from research on pikas, sharks, and bears (oh my!) to astronomy, biomedical, computational and data science, and ground-breaking archeology. You can just visualize these women in their “science space” and most of them are not even close to wearing a white lab coat.  

It is the combination of these three types of research that make IF/THEN stronger than the sum of its parts. In essence, we need Scully and Sylvia to reach the girl next door effectively! It feels like the concentration of these efforts together really has the ability to spread widely to girls across multiple media platforms.

Just standing in the room, I was privy to part of a conversation Karen Peterson had with Shirley Malcolm, Director of Education and Human Resources for AAAS. They remarked about how different this was when they were entering their careers and, hopefully, reflecting back on the many decades of fighting for change. They were beaming brightly as if to say, “we’re here.” 

Girls at the IF/THEN Summit

And every woman and girl in that room was absolutely thrilled to be part of this new tribe because She Can, indeed, Change the World. 

For graphics of some inspirational posts and a look at research, I’ve made a few downloads. A follow up blog called “Is Your Social Media Lit” with tips and tricks learned from the conference will be available next week on with reference downloads as well.   This article first appeared on the National Girls Collaborative Project Newsletter for November 2019.

Jennifer Stancil is a C-Suite executive and innovator from North Carolina. As a specialist in start-up non-profits, particularly those aligned with museums environments, she excels by leading teams to not just strive for, but establish, new best practices in informal education. A scientist, equity advocate, and Emmy Award winner, Jennifer has long been a National Champions Board Member for the National Girls Collaborative Project. Find her at or or on LinkedIn and Twitter.    


Equitable Experience – Interactivity to you

At the most recent Interactivity conference, where the world’s children’s museums convene to share best practices, I was honored to be part of a panel and interactive discussion about working toward gender equity in the exhibits and experiences we offer as museums.  

Attached, you’ll find my powerpoint deck and audio explanation, which illustrates a few key ideas I shared with the informal education field.  It weaves together the discussions of my fellow panelists, Carol Tang (Children’s Creativity Museum) and Karen Peterson (National Girls Collaborative Project) and some of the work that’s being done nationally about informal learning strategies for keeping girls in STEM.  

In the first slides, I share the work of the Exploratorium, NSF and others called EDGE (Exhibit Design for Girls’ Engagement) which shares particular techniques that foster an ideal environment for girls to learn.  Notably, the hows and whys of why girls prefer open-ended environments, where they can collaborate, watch and learn, and see themselves visually as scientists are described fully in the research.  

I then share my experience in working specifically in STEM with middle school girls. I owe a lot of success in my work to tapping into girls’ sense of identity and searching for a sense of who they are.  With the advent of gaming and social media, we all experiment with our identity by using avatars. The team at the Girls, Math & Science Partnership successfully turned iconic characters in both Click! and Canteen to relatable, defined girls with backstories as to why they liked STEM and how it impacted their world.  

Finally, I reflect on some of the most seminal work in the field of media and gender and one impetus behind the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media – that you can only be it when you see it. Images matter and having girls integrated into the visuals around STEM careers is critical to utilizing their imagination and grit to get there.  I also reference the new 2019 work from Twin Cities Public Television – the SciGirls Strategies – as well as the new initiative, If/Then, both leading the work for putting girls at the center of STEM in our future.  

I end by providing seven key strategies as a unique summary and call to action around the latest work in gender as it applies to learning environments.  I hope you’ll love using both the powerpoint and the audio podcast together!



In 2006, the Girls, Math & Science Partnership launched an innovative awareness and advocacy campaign. Just on the edge of the newly coined Twitterverse, we wanted to send a message from girls all over the world. Using our site, and our in-person programs all around Pittsburgh and at the Carnegie Science Center, we shared a letter that parents, teachers, girls and boys could send to NASA. When we found out NASA rejected the financial commitment to making a SMALL space suit that would accommodate more female astronauts.

Over 1700 letters were sent to NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration to protest their decision not to make a space suit small enough for women.  Today, another astronaut is sidelined.  This NPR article shares the background of spacesuits, space walks and women.   Equity and Girls in STEM are worth the investment.

I’m sorry we’re not making herstory this month in space.  Let’s make this right. #SpaceShouldSuitMeJustFine #girls #stem


Girls using their voice for change

Happy International Women’s Month!   

About four years ago, I received a Women of Distinction Award from the Girl Scouts.  Many councils across the nation celebrate women and their achievements this way and I was so honored to be recognized and to also be able to publicly thank my family for their support.  My particular category selection was based on being an influential woman in media and so, my speech reflected on that time. Before Notorious RBG movies, AOC, #metoo and the Women’s March, I talked about how media *could* be used positively for women.  

My speech talked about an “unprecedented” control for women in media.  It talked about the speed at which platforms are being adopted to help us tell our stories.  I said, “the advent of devices that can document the real lives, stories, aspirations and accomplishments of women and girls is now at our fingertips.”

Four years later, we’ve learned better how to harness the power of Twitter, Instagram and OUR OWN voices for change, yet we still sit in a tumultuous media landscape.  My call to action remains the same: I challenge you to make more media about, for, and with women of substance and change the tenor of media to one that is explicitly supportive and uplifting for women and girls.