Ana Kay Yaghoubian is STEM Manager at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). An alum of American University, she was previously with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, Younger Women’s Task Force, DC Metro, and American Forum.
Yaghoubian spoke with WashingtonExec about how she got involved in STEM, what she does at AAUW, how to get more parents (and women) into STEM, field successes and misconceptions, and more.
WashingtonExec: What is your background and how did you get involved in STEM?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: My educational background includes an undergraduate degree in sociology, as well as a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on nonprofit management. Before joining AAUW, I worked at several nonprofit organizations; my last position introduced me to STEM workforce issues. AAUW gave me a great opportunity to delve into the issue from a gendered perspective and concentrate on the need for more women in these fields. The well-received AAUW research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics galvanized my commitment to an organization that is so engaged in this aspect of education.
WashingtonExec: Please describe your day-to-day responsibilities at AAUW.
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: My day-to-day responsibilities at AAUW revolve around launching and implementing AAUW Tech Trek camps for girls. I am working with AAUW members who will be running the summer camps, helping them with fundraising, recruiting volunteers, and selecting teachers.
“I am supporting our member leaders as they reach out to local public school teachers for student nominations and as they start to plan curricula, speakers, and field trips.”
I am also responsible for creating and maintaining relationships with other organizations like STEMConnector.org, which hosted its first research report launch at the AAUW headquarters in Washington, D.C., on January 30.
WashingtonExec: The U.S. is not turning out the engineering students that we need in order to compete as an innovative country. Why is this issue so important?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: The United States is not just lacking in the numbers of engineering students it turns out, but also in computer science majors. Women and minorities are especially underrepresented in these fields. This means that we are virtually losing a vast portion of our society’s potential STEM workforce by underpreparing girls to participate in these fields. As our executive director, Linda Hallman, stated in 100 Women Leaders in STEM, “As an untapped talent pool, women are a key part of the solution. Because women offer different perspectives and approaches to problem-solving, recruiting and retaining them in these fields can open the door for new innovation.”
WashingtonExec: What’s your view to get more parents and girls involved in STEM?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: Parents need more information on the careers that are in demand today and will be in demand in the next 10 to 15 years, and what this means for their children’s education. This is a complicated issue that touches on everything from parental bias about gender and STEM, to a family’s access to the Internet, to whether family members have attended college. There are many websites that provide introductory videos and great STEM subject tutorials, as well as information on careers for kids and parents to explore together. Schools also play a significant role in shaping these attitudes and motivating students to keep STEM choices in mind. There is no quick fix for this issue, but AAUW hopes that by involving parents as well as their daughters in Tech Trek, we can help girls continue learning at home as well as in school.
WashingtonExec: What’s the best STEM success case study/project that you have been personally involved in?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: I have been involved with the original Tech Trek camps in California for the last year, and I am incredibly impressed with what these camps have achieved. The first Tech Trek camp was founded with the help of an AAUW Community Action Grant 15 years ago by Marie Wolbach. Since then, AAUW of California has helped Tech Trek serve more than 9,000 girls with weeklong summer camp sessions on eight California college campuses. The girls engage in hands-on activities and meet female STEM role models, and campers often return as counselors. Past campers have said that it was the first time they felt like they fit in because they were with girls who were excited about STEM. That success motivated AAUW to expand the program nationally. Girls shouldn’t feel isolated because they love math and science, and we are so excited to bring this opportunity to girls across the country.
WashingtonExec: What’s the biggest misconception about girls in STEM?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: The biggest misconception is that girls are naturally less skilled at math and hard sciences, or that they simply don’t like these subjects. Girls have the same aptitude for these subjects as boys, and most of the time earn the same — if not better — grades in these subjects. But girls tend to buy into the stereotypes about their STEM abilities, and stereotypes can become self-fulfilling prophecies and prevent girls from pursuing STEM fields.
“In fact, girls often receive the message that if they are not earning perfect grades, then they are not naturally smart enough for these professions, whereas many boys choose STEM majors even if their GPA is lower than that of their female counterparts.”
WashingtonExec: What’s the future of STEM? How can other like-minded people get involved?
Ana Kay Yaghoubian: The future of STEM is bright! I am confident that with the attention this issue has received at every educational level, as well as from the media and the corporate worlds, there will be a continued focus on how to involve more women and minorities in these fields. Like-minded people can get involved in many ways, including by working with AAUW. Our camps and other community-based STEM programs need volunteers, and we are currently looking for corporate sponsors to help make these camps happen in the summer of 2013. Check out our website or contact us at email@example.com to get involved.