San José High Students Lead STEM Equity Awareness Conference

Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley, San José High is one of few high schools in the Bay Area pioneering the way for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) awareness. STEM learning is a deep-seated part of school culture at SJHS, which has offered Project Lead The Way’s Engineering program to students since 2007. Just last year, San José High sent an all-girl team to the Chevron Design Challenge State Finals for PLTW. This year, on the last day of senior finals, San José High PLTW students prepared an Equity Awareness Conference. While most students would be celebrating the end of high school and the beginning of summer, San José High students were volunteering their time to share information about STEM to the community.

Students created an impressive line-up, presenting on topics such as Self-Sufficiency and Career Choice, Micro-Messages, Stereotypes in the Media, Stereotype Threat, Attribution Theory, Fixed/Growth Mindset, Privilege, and the Benefits of Collaboration.

In addition to over 200 students, families, and staff, SJHS was honored with the presence of Judith D’Amico, vice president of development for PLTW, Mimi Lufkin, CEO of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE), and a representative from the office of Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren.

This conference has been the result of a two-year partnership with the NAPE and a generous Motorola Foundation grant. NAPE’s mission is to create and promote equity, gender balance, and diversity in the STEM workforce, and they often partner with schools to try to identify potential gaps in the pipeline. Elizabeth Wallner, from NAPE, has worked tirelessly with SJHS to promote STEM awareness.

Last year Wallner worked primarily with a group of SJHS teachers, administrators, and counselors; the group realized that it was also important to get students involved. As word spread, more and more students became involved, until eventually there were more students than teachers. Before the end of the school year, the students decided it was important to organize a STEM Equity Awareness Conference to help spread information about STEM to the local community.

Fadumo Osman, who will be attending NYU in the fall, presented on “Self-Sufficiency and Career Choice.” She was impressed with the personal anecdotes that students shared, and felt that it was a unique opportunity for SJHS students to share their experiences to impact the community in a positive way. “Hopefully other schools can follow in our example.” Fadumo participated in PLTW all four years SJHS and will be majoring in biomedical engineering.

Fatima Ibrahim, a graduating senior and presenter on “Debunking the Myths of Nontraditional Employment,” felt that the conference was a successful way to encourage students to persevere in STEM. She felt the message was particularly empowering because the message “wasn’t just coming from adults, but from students themselves. A lot of us spoke about our personal experiences.”

Fatima also participated in PLTW Engineering all four years at SJHS and will be attending UC Berkeley in the fall. While she is undecided about whether she will pursue a degree in law or computer science, her recent work with the STEM equity conference has encouraged her to pursue Computer Science.

When asked how they would feel if they are the only girls in their STEM courses in college, both girls agreed that their experiences with NAPE and PLTW have made them empowered to continue their work in the STEM fields. Fatima replied: “Especially since we covered Stereotype Threat, and now that I’m aware of it, I will be able to use that knowledge in situations [where I might feel uncomfortable], and not feel intimidated or scared.”