EdCC president talks about STEM at White House

  • <b>SCHOOLS | </b>By Katie Murdoch Herald writer
  • Tuesday, May 8, 2012 8:54pm

Edmonds Community College is on the map for its work to encourage more students to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, or STEM.

President Jean Hernandez recently sat on a White House panel at an event geared at getting more high school girls into STEM careers. The event was streamed live online. Other panelists included a NASA astronaut and the lead engineer at Facebook.

“I wanted to pinch myself. It was surreal to sit with a panel of dynamic women,” Hernandez said. “I was honored to be the only one in higher education on the panel.”

Hernandez was recommended for the panel by the U.S. Department of Education, college spokesperson Michele Graves said. EdCC popped up when a search revealed it has received a whopping 19 National Science Foundation grants, including a research grant on proven practices for recruiting women to STEM careers, a rare honor for a two-year college.

“It’s about the work Edmonds Community College has done in the last 10 years,” Hernandez said. “It’s not about me. These types of opportunities don’t come along unless you have the infrastructure and faculty to support them.”

Hernandez was seated with NASA astronaut and retired U.S. Air Force Col. Cady Coleman; Jocelyn Goldfein, director of engineering at Facebook; and university student Bianca Bailey, president of the Howard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

About 100 girls from around the country attended the April 24 event representing high schools and Girl Scout troops, she said. Girls interested in such liberal arts fields as English and graphic design also attended.

They watched a video of a White House event where middle and high school girls demonstrated science experiments where they sanitized apples with white light and created an apparatus for a girl who is missing her fingers to hold a pencil. Another girl spoke with President Barack Obama about her sustainability efforts.

In the panel discussion, Hernandez highlighted the region’s Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field, where in 12 weeks people can get the skills needed to be hired at Boeing.

“A lot of times people think you need a four-year degree to really get into the STEM fields. And it’s not necessarily true,” Hernandez told the crowd.

Community college also is a good place to start for students who need to brush up on their math or science skills before launching into a STEM-related career, she added.

“When girls see themselves in STEM roles, it builds confidence,” Hernandez said in an interview after the event.

Studies show girls tend to underrate themselves while boys overrate their competency in science. “There’s a lot of work to be done to get girls excited about STEM,” she said.

Panelists at the event agreed it’s important for young women to find a mentor in their desired field, and that enticing girls to high-tech fields needs to start at an early age, she said.

Edmonds Community College is part of the Relationships in Science Education (RISE) program funded by the National Science Foundation, which will allow the college to spend five years increasing the number of students who graduate and transfer with STEM majors.

Additionally, NSF provided the college with a more than $592,000 grant to help 45 low-income students pursue STEM majors. Students who qualify will earn up to $5,000 per year as they work toward their degree.

A week-long summer program at the college focusing on STEM for middle- and high school-aged girls is something Hernandez would like to add. “Staff has been doing great work,” she said.

Watch the video

To see video of the White House Council on Women and Girls in STEM panel discussion featuring Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez, go to www.youtube.com and search “White House girls STEM.”