Why diversity & inclusion matter in STEM

Our executive director Connie Chow received the 2014 Distinguished Community Service and Leadership Award from ALPHA Boston. Lynnea Olivarez and Caro Ruiz presented her with the award at their Healthcare Summit on June 5th. Her remarks are below.


Thank you for the kind introduction, Lynnea. Thank you to ALPFA Boston for this truly great honor. It is so wonderful to see such a vibrant group of young leaders here.

THIS (here) is what diversity and inclusion means. Dr. Shirley Malcom, a pioneer for diversity in STEM, said. “We are not minorities. Together we are the majority”.

It’s extra special to be here because I am amongst friends. We honored Lydia (Dr. Villa-Komaroff) several years ago with [Science Club for Girls’] first Catalyst Award. She is a tremendous role model and is at the forefront of ensuring diversity in the sciences, locally and nationally. And she has been a mentor to me. Belen [Dr. Carillo-Rivas] and the diversity network at Pfizer, just hosted a field trip for our teens in Lawrence, and an outreach event in Boston this spring. Indeed, Pfizer and many of the leaders in pharma and science in the area are sponsors and supporters of SCFG, and we look forward to partnering with many more of you.

ConnieChow & Lydia Villa Komaroff

I think I am getting this award for two reasons. I am an evangelist for STEM literacy for everyone—-because I want everyone to have the geeky (and sometimes transcendent) experiences that I have. I am also a troublemaker–I want to have as many people as possible engage in intelligent discussions and decision making in education, industry, diplomacy and government.

Let me explain further. STEM literacy, beyond understanding principles and processes, also means the ability to reason, weigh evidence, to tolerate ambiguity, as well the culture of respectfully challenging authority. These are all part and parcel of a healthy democracy and characteristics of learning, innovative institutions.

I don’t know about you but I want a better world. [Sarcasm]. We have serious issues of global health, climate change, natural resources, implications of technology and privacy that require as many bright minds and perspectives as possible to tackle. We know that girls and underrepresented groups are more attracted to science and engineering when we pose these fields as avenues to make their communities and the world a better place. So when more of us are at the table, we will ask different questions, and likely to approach problems with a view to making the innovation not only better, but better for all.

So how are we at Science Club for Girls building culturally-literate scientists, and science-literate citizens?

Our work is about creating environments where Dina, from Lexington, who will be going to Case Western, and Tatevick, who went to Madison High in Boston, and now attending UMass Boston, can work shoulder-to-shoulder on the rocket team with each other and with aerospace engineers like Angelika; where both have the confidence to ask for an internship and who have the skills and learning mindset to make the experience joyful and productive.


Our work is about creating mentoring relationships, where one of our media team mentors, Brendan (yes a male,) helped Neira, a senior at Boston Latin to apply to MCPHS. She has been accepted, with a merit scholarship and “hopefully I’ll be the person to discover a cure for cancer”.

Our work is also about creating an organization that reflects our participants, and to build cultural competency in our staff and our volunteers—future leaders in society and in STEM–so that we have the space to examine our differences, and the biases that we bring to our interactions with each other and our girls, and yes, in our own organization.

Ultimately, we are here to create environments where girls feel like they belong and can be part of the enterprise.

Our work to increase diversity in STEM, however, is fraught with challenges beyond our organization’s control, that some of you may be familiar with. For example, an inclusive, joyful environment is highly incompatible with the high stakes testing children must endure.
Even though our programs are free, children’s access to high quality programs are limited by funding for comprehensive afterschool programs and their parent’s economic and employment status.
When our participants leave our program, they are often faced with images and messages, or the lack thereof, that curb their courage to imagine a different future.
While we know that STEM graduates have lower unemployment rates, many still may face crushing debt after college. When they become postdocs, some may well be living near poverty wages.
The lack of family friendly policies and equitable pay force many women, and men, to choose between what they love to do and who they love.

Pasi Sahlberg, now a global ambassador of educational achievement, said that Finland did not start out by saying, “We want to be #1 in the world in math or science”. Their only goal was to create the most equitable educational system.

The work at Science Club for Girls, at the Diversity Subcommittee of the Governor’s STEM Council and elsewhere that I serve with my colleagues locally and internationally, is ultimately women’s rights, social justice and human rights work.

I know you are all amazing change agents who can open doors and dismantle barriers. My challenge to you is to be innovative in considering the dimensions of diversity and inclusiveness in your research questions, in the policies and practices at your company and professional associations, and in the norms and conversations amongst your family and communities.

I am proud to be a partner with you in this majority movement to increase the representation and participation of women and men of color in the exciting fields of science, healthcare, and beyond. It will be great doing it together. Thank you again.

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