This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Erin Hogeboom, Director Of Strategic Partnerships at National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). NGCP works to bring together organizations that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In this interview, she shares the NGCP’s approach to supporting girls in STEM.
When did you get first interested in STEM and what motivated you to inspire girls to pursue their interest in STEM?
I have been interested in at least the S, T, and E of STEM since I was a little girl. I loved bugs and the outdoors and was fascinated by the natural world. I loved spending time wondering about all of its curiosities. Despite my interest, I didn’t study STEM, and that’s partially what propelled me into the work I do now. I never thought I was science, tech, or engineering-minded, even though all of those subjects delighted me. I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a scientist, or mathematician, or engineer. So I veered towards the subject that came most easily to me, one that teachers praised me for excelling in: language arts. From very early on, I felt as though I had a clear idea of what I was ‘good’ and ‘not good’ at. That set me on a pathway that directed nearly all of my career choices. It wasn’t until I worked in agriculture in the Peace Corps that I realized how much I had missed the sciences and reabsorbed my interest in them. I am drawn to the work I do, supporting girls pursuing STEM careers, for two main reasons. First, I think there are many girls who would be phenomenal women in STEM—bringing innovation to the field—if society didn’t direct them away from it. Second, because STEM careers on average pay higher than non-STEM, and this helps reduce the earning gap between men and women.
You’re the director of Strategic Partnerships of the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP). Can you tell us a bit more about the organization and what your work entails?
The National Girls Collaborative Project just celebrated its 16th birthday. The best way to understand the NGCP and the value it brings to the current ‘girls in STEM’ space—which is now wonderfully crowded—is through our origin story. We got started before ‘girls in STEM’ was the hot-button topic it is today, up in the Pacific Northwest. A group of women—who we fondly refer to as our ‘Founding Mothers’—decided to pursue some funding made available by the National Science Foundation. The Founding Mothers themselves represented a cross-section of stakeholders with diverse experience, from industry to classroom, program creation and evaluation. Like good researchers, before moving full steam ahead on starting a new, girl-serving STEM program, the group did a needs-assessment to find the gaps in existing programming. They identified several programs concentrating on girls in STEM, but found they were very isolated and needed to be more connected with other programs, with industry, etc. Industry partners also identified the need to connect with programs.
It was out of that experience that the Pacific Northwest Girls Collaborative Project was started, creating an infrastructure of a diverse set of stakeholders all agreeing to focus on one common issue: girls in STEM. At the heart of the PNWGCP was collaboration, rather than reinventing the wheel. This ‘Community of Practice’ model was so successful that word began to spread and states like California, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin wanted to develop something similar. Those states also found the model more effectively presented STEM to more girls, so the project went National with the NSF grant “Advancing the Agenda in Gender Equity.” Once this national network was in place, the NGCP was awarded with the NSF grant “Diverse Workforce” to focus on subsets of girls underserved in STEM, particularly girls of color and girls with disabilities. Since then, the NGCP has focused on refining the approach to serving girls in STEM and growing globally. My role at the organization is multi-faceted, but ultimately it is to support the network and identify and work with partners in order to most effectively do that.
What is your approach to spark curiosity of girls and kids in STEM?
There are so many amazing programs doing wonderful work sparking the curiosity of girls and boys alike in STEM! The beauty of NGCP is our focus on research and collective knowledge, so the best thing I can do is to direct people to where they can find out more about that. Under ‘Resources’ and ‘Exemplary Practices’ on our website, you can find an ever-growing list of what research and the community says works for engaging girls in STEM. One of my personal favorites is the ‘SciGirls Strategies’, which provide a simple, educational approach, “rooted in what research has revealed engages girls in STEM.” They say, “these strategies have also been proven to work with all learners, including underrepresented youth. Everyone benefits from a gender equitable approach to STEM!”
You helped to establish FabFems project, a database of women in STEM. How did the project come about and what have been some outcomes you've seen?
The NGCP does manage FabFems—our database of women in STEM role models and mentors, and we did that because of the need for role models and mentors expressed by our national network. The research shows us just how important role models and mentors are to not only enticing but also supporting girls’ pursuit of STEM careers. FabFems was built as a tool to help facilitate the connection which we knew was so critical to our mission of creating the tipping point for gender equity in STEM. Since its inception, FabFems has helped thousands of young people, boys and girls, hear from and connect with women in STEM mentors and role models. And perhaps just as importantly, FabFems has been part of the momentum behind the importance of this piece of the puzzle in sustainably supporting girls through the many stages of their STEM careers.
When you're not doing outreach or partnership development what do you do to unwind?
My love of the outdoors still prevails, and I live in gorgeous San Diego, so whenever I get the chance I am either out hiking on a trail, walking on the beach, riding my bike, or camping under the stars!
Erin Hogeboom serves as the Director for Strategic Partnerships for The Connectory and National Girls Collaborative (NGC), working to increase cohesion across the NGC network and The Connectory, an online community, thereby expanding science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM) resources more equitably. Through managing partnerships, pilots, and on-going projects as related to The Connectory, and facilitating strategic planning, implementation, and social media surrounding the NGC Leadership growth and sustainability, Erin reinforces the forward momentum of NGC and The Connectory. With the goal of increasing diversity in tomorrow’s STEM professionals, Erin's role culminates eight years of working on community and human development issues. Erin holds a Masters from New York University and is a former Peace Corps Volunteer.