North Carolina Central University Assistant Professor Siobahn Day Grady, Ph.D., is serving as a leading light for girls and women in STEM through a program that encourages diversity in fields historically dominated by white males.
Grady, a computer and information scientist and the first woman to graduate with a computer science Ph.D. from the College of Engineering at N.C. A&T State University, was chosen as a STEM Ambassador by the If/Then Initiative, which seeks to bring more women and minorities into hard sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Ambassadors work to help younger women cultivate their own identities as leaders in STEM. The program is sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies based on the premise that “if” women are supported in STEM, “then” they can change the world.
“The STEM workforce has disparities in gender and in historically disenfranchised groups,” Grady said. “As an ambassador, I affect change by examining perceptions, attitudes and behaviors of girls and helping them gain confidence in curating and developing a STEM identity.”
The If/Then Initiative provided a $10,000 grant for Grady’s work with the Delta Academy program run by the Pitt County, N.C., Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. The project, entitled “STEM-It-Yourself: Cultivating and Developing your STEM Identity through a Hybrid Model of Engagement to Adolescent Girls,” provides information and experiences about STEM careers to girls ages 11 to 14.
“The primary purpose of the program is to expose middle-school girls to STEM skills, and we try to reach out to underserved populations in our area, which is very rural,” said Patti Sanders-Smith, Ed.D., a chapter member and program director.
Morgan Harvey, 13, has participated in the Delta Academy for the past two years.
“It’s given me a lot of opportunities to meet people and become exposed to a lot of career options I might not have learned about in school,” said Harvey, who now plans to study medicine.
Not only do the middle-schoolers encounter accomplished professionals in STEM fields through the academy, but they also have a chance to form role models closer to their own age.
Among those assisting Grady in the program are NCCU library and information science majors Latasha Reid-Daniels, Lillian Muriungi and Natalie Tucker, as well as doctoral student Amanda DeSimone-Ahabrack, and Grace Dossou, a high school student at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics.
Studies by Microsoft have shown the 68% of girls who chose a high-tech career say they were inspired by one person, event, or class during middle or high school years. A lack of female role models in the sector has been shown to decrease the likelihood of girls choosing a STEM career.
Grady was among 125 female STEM innovators selected to serve as If/Then Ambassadors based on achievements and commitment to serving as high-profile role models for girls. A life-sized statue of Grady will be on display in 2021 at NorthPark Center in Dallas, Texas, as part of the #IfThenSheCan – The Exhibit,the largest collection of statues of women assembled at one place.
The 122 statues of contemporary female STEM professionals were 3-D printed and represent role models from a variety of industries including entertainment, sports, business and academia.