On Monday, October 11th, representatives from IGNITE (Inspiring Girls Now in Technology Evolution) met at the central offices of Seattle School District with an international delegation touring the United States as part of the “New Beginning: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education” project. The delegation, accompanied by four representatives from the US State Department, consisted of science and math teachers and school administrators from Albania, Chad, Cyprus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Macedonia, Malaysia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, and United Kingdom. IGNITE founder Cathi Rodgveller presented the goals and objectives of the IGNITE organization and how its programs are deployed to participating schools and regions. Throughout her talk Ms. Rodgveller emphasized the importance of bringing girls and young women into education and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. At the core of the STEM Education initiatives domestically and internationally there must be direct targeting of girls and young women.
The presentation emphasized the importance of recruiting women who are already working in technology careers to get involved with the IGNITE program, to give presentations to girls about what their personal experiences have been, to show the girls the wide range of options and opportunities open to them, and offer to mentor individual girls. The IGNITE website and Facebook were discussed as ways that all of the participants in IGNITE get involved and connect with each other to share experiences and also find opportunities. But it was made clear that the primary effectiveness of IGNITE is in its direct, in-person involvement with girls and young women. While the online components of IGNITE are essential to involvement and participation, it is the discussions, demonstrations and job shadows – during which a girl is given the opportunity to visit a woman at her workplace and get exposed to the direct experience of what that type of a job involves – that provide maximum effectiveness in getting young women involved, and keeping them engaged. This is the type of experience that has direct and measurable success in bringing girls and young women into fields which, in many cases, they would not have previously considered open to them.
The Nigeria chapter of IGNITE was discussed as a model of how IGNITE can be administered at the international level. Delegates were shown photographs and reports from the inaugural event of the chapter, which was held at the US Consulate, and which included girls from six different schools and talks by the first female computer science teacher in Nigeria and the first female president of Computer Professionals of Nigeria. Each of the delegates was also presented with a folder of materials about IGNITE, including a DVD of the IGNITE video presentation.
There was some concern expressed about the cost of the IGNITE program, and attendees were reassured that IGNITE was willing to sponsor any of the international chapters. Anyone wanting to start an IGNITE chapter would be provided the materials and support at no cost if they did not have the funds to start the program.
The presentation was followed by an open discussion which involved questions from the delegates about how the IGNITE program works, and questions and observations about broader issues of gender equity in their own countries. Most of the educators who spoke face similar challenges in terms of the societal obstacles to getting more women and girls involved in STEM careers and education in their own countries. Beyond the initial problem of getting girls to view these areas of study as something they can do, the girls often face further barriers to additional educational opportunities and employment, often centered around the belief that the young women will abandon their studies or careers in favor of marriage and having children. Ms. Rodgveller stressed the importance of everyone – men and women – actively putting efforts towards changing the long-standing beliefs of what women’s roles are and should be, and that change is certainly within reach. There was great support among members of the delegation for active work towards greater gender equity in STEM fields, and how essential this is to progress.
At the end of the meeting, the delegates were told that they would be contacted by email with further information about IGNITE and about how they can get involved through the STEM initiative on Facebook.