Archive for October, 2008

Geek chic: it’s cool to be the smart girl in school!

I just read a great article my mother in law sent me about how much negative stereotypes cost young women and our whole country:

Acting like math isn’t cool is robbing our country of great talent.  The stereotype that math is uncool deprives our daughters of successful futures and our entire country on all the talents their skills might have borne.

This is why programs like Girlstart are so important!  We give girls a safe place to be smart, to try, explore, and experiment.

Be smart!  Be proud!


October 17, 2008 at 7:54 pm Leave a comment

Video games, girls and education

This Summer, I attended Girlstart’s ITGirl Summer Academy-a week long camp where our IT Girls examined gender equity in gaming and computer science, explored the power of new media in effecting social change, and planned and produced a virtual global awareness event in Teen Second Life.

Day 1 of the camp consisted of console gaming-the girls played a variety of video games on the XBOX 360, Playstation, and Wii and discussed female portrayal in gaming, game design and blogged about some contemporary gender and technology issues. The girls’ exposure to video games varied-some had never touched a controller, some had played only one or two types of games regularly, and very few considered themselves “gamers”.

While many girls’ opinions about gaming revolved around negative connotations of the word “Gamer”, most girls seemed to be very receptive to gaming. After a quick tutorial in Mortal Kombat, 2 of the 18 girls in the camp’s first session became almost obsessed, researching and practicing new moves and asking me questions about my experience playing competitively. As someone who loves gaming and credits it for her interest in technology in general, this almost brought tears to my eyes. Girls from the camp towards the end were considering asking their parents for tech gifts for Xmas instead of some of the things they’d thought of before. We discussed some of the stereotypes that surround gamers, why women have had so many challenges entering the field, and how things are changing.

One of the hottest topics today is surrounding the use of the Nintendo DS in the classroom. A Tokyo school recently began using the Nintendo DS in language classes (, and researchers are increasingly finding that recent advances in gaming technology are highly relevant to science programs ( Girlstart’s collaboration with the Educator’s Coop has introduced us to the fantastic capabilities of Second Life and we are in awe of its massive potential as a tool for education in math, science, engineering, architecture, design and tech fields.

Austin’s very own South by Southwest interactive conference (SXSW) considers gaming and gender issues and gaming in education two of the hottest topics for 2008/2009.

What do we do with all this information? Well here at Girlstart we decided to continue this conversation and submitted a panel idea to the SXSW interactive conference for 2009. The working title for the panel is “Gaming as a gateway drug: using video games to get girls into technology.” The presentation will consist of educators, industry professionals and community members and will explore how gaming can be effectively used to lure girls into building and pursuing their technology interests.

The decision will be made sometime towards the end of October/beginning of November, so I’ll be sure to keep you posted with updates on the panel as well as any developing news pieces on the use of gaming in the classroom.


October 15, 2008 at 7:41 pm Leave a comment

Help girls overcome stereotypes

I just read a great article in the Baltimore Sun written by Kate Shatzkin:,0,7918762.story

The article documents a phenomenon common in girls (and women) where we internalize poor performance or poor grades a negative reflection of ourselves and our abilities, all to often leading in the misconception at an early age that girls “aren’t good at math or science”.  The reverse is true of boys (and men I would argue), they externalize these challenges and are likely to attribute poor performance on a test not as a reflection of not being smart enough, but of not being ready for the test, or the teachers picking unfair questions, etc.  What I love about this article is that on top of giving parents tips it also emphasizes the core of all programs:  stress the utilitarian aspect of how math, science and technology careers. Girls want to know how these careers help people and make the world better, that’s what makes these opportunities exciting and meaningful to them!


October 14, 2008 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Who Knew Science Could Be So Much FUN?

Katelyn shows off fun science at Fox7

Katelyn shows off fun science at Fox7

Girlstart’s Program Manager and Camp Director Katelyn Wamsted visited the Fox 7 News set early this morning and showed off a fun and easy science experiment that we can all try at home.

For more great experiments that you can actually EAT (yup, you got that right-edible science experiments!), register for our Edible Chemistry Saturday workshop taking place tomorrow. YUM!

October 10, 2008 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Excerpts from an interview in the Austin Business Journal with Sandra Zaragoza.

1. Girlstart has been around for more than 10 years. How have things changed since you founded it?

The thing that has changed the most since I founded Girlstart is technology, it’s constantly changing. We’re sharing incredible innovations in technology with girls. It’s hard to believe now but when I started Girlstart teaching girls to build websites was truly cutting edge. Now we’re teaching girls how to use green screen technology and how to put on actual events in Teen Second Life. The thing that hasn’t changed is the need. Women hold only 12% of the nation’s lucrative science, engineering, and technology jobs and currently only an estimated 10% of engineers are female. Sadly, those numbers have not improved at all in the past 10 years.

2. As a society we’d like to think we’ve made strides in getting girls interested in STEM-related careers. Where do you see us now and what still needs to be accomplished?

The world is changing. The infrastructure of our society is based on medical advances, technological innovation, the global marketplace, the economy and the environment. If girls and women don’t have a place at the table we get an extremely limited perspective on how to solve the problems that plague our word.

3. Why should businesses and individual donors invest in your organization?

This economy poses challenges for all of us. It’s more expensive for all of us to provide our services, our clients need our help now more than ever, and funders are tightening their belts. There’s a draw to supporting urgent services for those highest in need. It’s easy to forget or downplay the need to invest in future generations but it is an investment that will pay off for all of us. If the cure for cancer is in the mind of an eleven year old girl and we fail to get her excited about science and technology, we just lost the cure for cancer.

4. What is one mistake that you’ve made that you’ve learned from?

I do not believe there are any mistakes. I’ve learned from every challenge I’ve encountered. Some lessons were very painful but experiencing it not as a failure, and instead choosing to ask myself, “What I can learn from this?” has made me grow as a person.

5. What has been your proudest moment?

My proudest moments happen everyday because I believe in celebrating and cheering for every win, big and small. Being an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist for the third time and being in the company of these other great finalists really makes me feel like I’ve done something right.

October 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

Profiles in Power

On Thursday I attended the Austin Business Journal’s Profiles in Power conference at the Renaissance Hotel. Nina Vaca, President and CEO of Pinnacle Resources and everything-woman gave a fantastic keynote called “Failure is not an option,” that covered her humble beginnings as a daughter of immigrants, to her journey in becoming a highly successful entrepreneur, philanthropist, and mother of four! She also hit two topics that really resonated with me as young professional women just getting started in my career: the importance of surrounding yourself with the right kinds of friends, and the value of mentorship. In short, she talked about girl power!

Nina said there are three kinds of friends you should have—the one that encourages you pushing you up and challenging you to come out of your comfort zone; the one who is not afraid to boost you up even higher, even if it means pushing you above herself; and the supporter, the one who will walk with you hand-in-hand through life. If these are not the types of women you are surrounding yourself with, maybe you should reconsider your circle of friends, she said.

I thought this was great advice! Nina is all about women helping women. I thought of my own friends when she said this. I sometimes feel I might be missing out on the socialite lifestyle, that something is wrong with me because I don’t have an entourage of female companions. But the truth is, my few “real friends” are always there to help me out, and I do the same for them.

This week I received an email from a discouraged friend who has been having a tough time finding a job since graduating college. My immediate response was an offer to look over her resume, some encouraging words, and links to a few web resources. The very next day, my girlfriend in DC, whom I mentioned to earlier this week that I may be interested in buying my first home soon, sent me a link to a NY Times Article on a new bill to benefit first time home buyers. Karma comes full circle…and so does the power of women working together.

Mentorship was another thing Nina stressed. My ears really perked up for this one as since I’ve recently become interested in finding my own mentor. I think having a model in your field is a fantastic way to learn unspoken industry etiquette and learn from some one who’s been there. Nina stressed that mentorship is an invaluable gift, an important way women can help each other succeed in their professional lives. I personally feel that taking on a mentee is one of the most responsible things women can do, both in their professional and personal lives. This is not about owing anything to anyone else; it’s not the price you pay for your success. It’s just that whether we admit it or not, women have their own set of hurdles to face in the professional world and let’s face it, going about success the traditional way doesn’t work for most of us. All of the successful women I know got there by taking risks, raising their voice, and believing in themselves when no one else did. I think mentorship is the guiding light. Women have come such a long way; why not share your success with someone else? Although I have often read about the importance of mentorship, particularly for minority women, it really meant a lot coming from a successful, independent woman like Nina.

She left us with this: “At the end of the day, it is nice to be important; but it is more important to be nice.” Now that’s girl power.

– Nicole

October 9, 2008 at 8:31 pm 1 comment

Why aren’t there women here? Commentary on “The Freedom to Say No” by Elaine McArdle, Boston Globe

Read the article HERE.

Why aren’t there more women in STEM careers?  McArdle argues that two new studies suggest its women’s own preferences that explain the dramatic gender imbalance in math, science and technology careers. Do I think women self-select out of math, science and IT worlds? Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. What I value is finding out why they self select and address it, not to accept it as such and dismiss it. We know at Girlstart that girls self select because of the unappealing stereotypes around these professions. Although 76% of girls report interest and enjoyment in working with computers, 77% said they were uninterested or unsure about IT careers. (College Board AP Test 2007 Program Summary Report) At Girlstart we work to reverse these stereotypes everyday by introducing girls to dynamic women and cutting edge opportunities in these professions. By creating programs that are exciting, hands-on and speak to girls’ interests and concerns we’re doign everything we can to change this trend and shattering these stereotypes.  – Rachel

October 9, 2008 at 8:30 pm Leave a comment

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