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 www.jenstancil.com 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 www.jenstancil.com or jen.stancil@gmail.com 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, BrainCake.org 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.


Happy Birthday, BrainCake.org!

On this day, 12 years ago, the Girls, Math & Science Partnership relaunched BrainCake.org as a love letter to girls wanting to learn more about STEM. I also happened to be on maternity leave. While that might not be the best work/life balance story, the story of girls who *can* do science & math is one that we want to keep telling – today and every day. I loved all of my work at GMSP and BrainCake was just one of the lovely benefits of working for equity each and every day. – JS