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Turning “She Can” into “She Will”

Posted on Fri, May 18, 2018
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Aviation changed the world in its first hundred years. The age-old dream of human flight, finally realized near Kitty Hawk in 1903, transformed every facet of our lives and accelerated the 20th century from railroads and steamships to the interconnected global community that greeted the new millennium.

I am confident that the second century of flight can top the achievements of the first, but there are challenges to that lofty goal. Women make up half of the world’s population, and half of the U.S. workforce, but hold only 24 percent of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs.

We need to widen, not winnow, channels leading to STEM jobs for students of all genders, from all communities.

At the same time, competition for top talent has never been greater. With tech giants like Apple and Amazon, aerospace has to try harder to attract new grads looking to make what Steve Jobs called their dent in the universe.

Aviation and space sectors are critical to our modern world and support nearly every aspect of the global economy. But with an aging aero-workforce and a narrow recruiting pipeline, how can we help reverse the trend and ensure a diverse, vibrant talent pool, ready to meet the challenges the future holds head-on? By starting young—very young.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum just announced an exciting new program to do just that. The She Can STEM Summer Camp will offer middle school girls from low-income households, at no cost, a glimpse at the exciting opportunities that aerospace--particularly aviation--has to offer. They will meet inspiring women who work and thrive in the aviation field. They will also get hands-on flight instruction in FAA-certified simulators, take a 30-minute Discovery Flight with a local flight school, visit Air Traffic Control facilities, launch a high-altitude weather balloon, and even go indoor skydiving.

As much as I love my new job as director of America’s favorite museum, I wish I could go with the girls on these great adventures.

Students in a theater look up at a screen.

Teens working with an Explainer at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. 

This is a program with a mission I’m passionate about: encouraging women and minorities to get involved in STEM fields. We need to widen, not winnow, channels leading to STEM jobs for students of all genders, from all communities, and it needs to start much earlier than the college recruiting fair.

Middle school is a critical time to engage students around STEM topics. It is a time when students start to consider career options, and the opinions they form at this age will be carried through their years of higher learning. We also know that girls at this age are most engaged when working collaboratively and getting to know female role models that show them what they can achieve. Unfortunately, this is also the age at which many girls become discouraged from pursuing STEM topics, even when they excel in the classroom.

You won’t find aerospace giants setting up recruiting booths in middle schools, but that’s where we can help. Museums can make the difference in presenting the exciting, rewarding, life-and-world-changing opportunities for those who stick it out in the classroom. We can spark an interest that can grow into a lifetime of curiosity and discovery.

Our She Can STEM Summer camp is about showing these young women that the opportunities available to them in all areas of aviation are endless. We want to encourage them to pursue a future in STEM. It’s about showing a young girl that she can, so that one day she will.

The She Can STEM summer camp will introduce participants to the science of flight and expose them to diverse careers in aviation. Students must live in DC, Maryland, or Virginia and must attend a Title I school or qualify for reduced or free lunches. Applications are due by June 18, 2018. Learn more about the camp and the application process.