Girls and STEM: Making it the Choice Not the Chore


When we think about Science for many of us it sends a little bit of a chill down our spine. For some of us we are reminded of the high school Chemistry class we struggled through or the Physics class we were forced to take to fulfill that one last Science requirement to graduate from college.

For me, the sciences were always subjects to be feared and avoided at all costs. Although I had a few female Science teachers, they seemed to be muddling through the class themselves. Science wasn't their passion, or at least it didn't seem to be, and they were also the Homeroom, English, Math and Reading teacher.

When I moved into college, I didn't have any female Science teachers, or even Math teachers for that matter, and it didn't seem strange to me at all. In my mind, Science was for boys who were interested in dissecting things, figuring out very difficult equations and burning stuff that smelled terrible.

Photo Courtesy of Pace University

What I didn't realize, until I became a teacher myself, a preschool and then kindergarten teacher, was that the STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, were amongst my favorites and had been all along. They were my favorite subjects when I was in school too, at least up until fourth grade, when we had to go to a class called Science, read from a boring textbook and learn vocabulary words that were as foreign to me as learning Mandarin.

What I found out when I had to teach these STEM subjects to my students was that STEM wasn't scary. STEM was mixing food coloring together and watching as new colors magically appeared, reading about how NASA using robots to explore Mars, working with a huge bin of Legos and straws to build a bridge as a class, or watching a four-year-old finally understand the idea of subtraction when they were using brightly colored bears as math manipulatives.

The STEM subjects were wonderfully exciting and all around us. We just weren't letting our kids, and especially our girls in on the secret. When I started my own preschool program in 2010, I decided that one of our core missions was going to be to demystify STEM and bring these subjects into the classroom from day one. We also were going to use the actual vocabulary words, especially in the Sciences. Chemistry is mixing food coloring together, Engineering is figuring out how to build that bridge with toothpicks and Legos. How do different colors affect the temperature of an object? Physics. It was especially important when doing anything Science related that we used the same words we would use in a high school classroom in our preschool room so that when our students were told it's time for Chemistry class, or Physics or a lesson in Ecology for that matter, they knew what they were in for and they had a positive attitude toward the Sciences.

After many years of watching caterpillar's turn into butterflies, and carnations turn blue, red and purple as they drank from canisters of colored water, we are proud to say that we have graduated a lot of kids, both boys and girls, who love Science. We have had the opportunity to follow up with many of them in first, second and even third grade and they light up when you say the word experiment, Chemistry, or Physics. But that doesn't mean that we all must love Science or feel like we are budding Scientists with all the answers to excite our kids about STEM. Just helping our sons and daughters to have a few cool, fun experiences with Science is enough and it's easy to do right at home.

If you want to teach your little ones about chemistry, start with baking. Mixing, measuring, and observing how the ingredients come together is a lot of fun. Add heat and what do you get? An experiment, cookies and a delicious treat. Biology and ecology might seem like a stretch, but it's easy to bring home as well. Get a few flower pots and some seeds and observe as your indoor garden grows with your child, or purchase a small butterfly kit online and watch as caterpillars create cocoons, and bloom into beautiful butterflies. Environmental science your thing? Divide and conquer. Have your kids help you sort your recyclables. Set some boxes aside, decorate them together and talk about why we recycle and how it helps keep our earth healthy. There are so many ways to bring Science home and get your kids excited about it. By exposing our kids to opportunities at home and school, we are helping them to build a positive relationship with science that will be everlasting.

Photo Courtesy of University of San Diego

As the mother of two girls, I wanted them to have a positive outlook towards the Sciences and even consider making Science a career choice. One daughter has decided that she is most interested in a career in the Arts, which I am equally proud and happy about. The other, has chosen to pursue a career in medicine. Either way, both of my daughters enjoy Science and grew up feeling as if all the STEM subjects were fun, exciting and just as much for the boys as they were for the girls.

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What I Learned About Marriage as a Survivor of Abuse

Marriage can be a tightrope act: when everything is in balance, it is bliss and you feel safe, but once things get shaky, you are unsure about next steps. Add outside forces into the equation like kids, work, finances or a personal crisis and now there's a strong chance that you'll need extra support to keep you from falling.

My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.

I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.

To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.

I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.

1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.

2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.

3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.

4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.

5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.

6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.