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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How These Co-Founders Exited for $100M Without Any VC Funding

When their frustration with current fabric care options had fashionistas Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd worn out, the two entrepreneurs made it their mission to start a new niche and launch their very own at-home, eco-friendly laundry detergent line.

With a mission of turning an everyday domestic chore into a luxurious experience, these entrepreneurs not only conjured up an idea for an unconventional product line, but they successfully built their business while turning down the offer of every venture capitalist to knock on their door.

Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd co-founded The Laundress in 2004 after dealing with their own personal frustrations with limited clothing care options. Whiting, having worked at Ralph Lauren in design and Boyd having worked at Chanel in corporate sales, soon accumulated a stylish wardrobe of designer pieces as perks of their jobs in the fashion industry. However, the duo quickly realized that the maintenance required for upkeeping these items were far from adequate. Laundry products on the market at the time did not cater to delicate textures and fabrics such as tweed blazers, cable-knit cashmere and silk blouses. Taking their clothing to the dry cleaners also proved hopeless as their clothing would often come back with stains or even be ruined despite the overload of chemicals used to clean them. With nowhere left to turn, Whiting and Boyd were determined to create their own laundry solutions designed for specific fabrics.

Not only did the entrepreneurs develop the business expertise needed to finally begin their own company, but they also shared the same educational background that equipped them to pursue their unconventional business venture. Whiting and Boyd met in college as students at Cornell University majoring in Fiber Science, Textile, and Apparel Management and Design. The pair was introduced by a mutual friend and instantly knew they would become business partners. "It was inevitable that we were going to have a business together. We are both extremely entrepreneurial by nature, and it was one of the connections that we instantly shared" said Whiting. After focusing on pursuing their own individual careers for a while, Whiting and Boyd quickly discovered a void in the fabric care marketplace when their clients would continuously inquire about the upkeep of their designer pieces.

The entrepreneurial duo was committed to researching and developing their own eco-friendly laundry products and soon launched their own at-home solutions for specific fabrics like silk, wool and denim, which ultimately eliminated the need for dry cleaning for those particular items. Despite their products filling a necessary void in the market, it quickly became challenging for the founders to persuade people to shift their focus away from traditional laundry care options in order to try their products. However, Whiting and Boyd believed in their mission for the Laundress and bootstrapped from the very beginning, refusing all venture capital funding with the goal of growing organically. In order to be successful, they had to get creative in fundraising. "In the very early days, we funded business development by hosting a 'for profit' party at a New York City restaurant and inviting friends, family, co-workers, etc. to support our new venture. That was pre-Kickstarter and an inventive way to make everyone feel a big part of our decision to be entrepreneurs," said Whiting.

While turning down VC funding as new entrepreneurs seems unimaginable, it is as equally unfathomable to consider how these women gained national traction without social media, all the while hustling to fund their business. For Whiting and Boyd, who started their business before social media existed, it was imperative that they promote their brand by leveraging the resources they had available to them. The CEO's were one of the first to sell consumer goods, let alone detergent, online with the goal of reaching a national audience. Despite having limited retail distribution, they leveraged the power of their website and became featured in publications on both a national and international scale. "Before social media platforms existed, we nurtured our own Laundress community with engaging content on our website, step-by-step tutorials on our blog, and one-on-one communication through our Ask The Laundress email," Whiting explained. With technology evolving and the birth of social media platforms, the founders expanded the conversation about their products from website, blog and email to platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

As female entrepreneurs, Whiting and Boyd faced additional hardships as misconceptions about their mission ultimately proved to disappoint more than it encouraged them. As women selling luxury detergent, there existed a preconceived notion that funding would be more easily attainable based upon their gender.

"Everyone thought it was easy to access capital as female entrepreneurs, but it was actually very challenging. We had this unique and disruptive idea within a very traditional space and it was hard to get people on board at first. It's been a continuous journey to educate people in fabric care and home cleaning," said Boyd.

Reflecting on their journey as entrepreneurs, the founders express no regrets about refusing to accept venture capital throughout the process. "Over the years, we could never quantify the cost benefit of VC funding so we continued to grow organically and remain independent by funding ourselves with credit cards and loans," explained Boyd. While their decision proved fruitful, the duo expressed their consideration towards other entrepreneurs who may not be able to fully fund their business as they grow. Because funding is a situational experience, entrepreneurs must ultimately do what is best for their business as no one path is optimal for every entrepreneur or every business.

With an increasing amount of women entering entrepreneurship with their own unique set of products or services, the CEO's offer up one piece of advice on how female entrepreneurs can be successful in their endeavors.

Whiting: "Our advice to anyone looking to build their brands: Have a strong business plan and vision. If you are not disciplined to write a business plan first then you are not disciplined to start a business. Get your ideas down so you ask yourself the right questions; it helps you get organized and plan next steps."

Boyd: "Create quality products without sacrificing the ingredients—no cutting corners. What you create should be the most important piece. Stay passionate, and trust your instincts and follow your gut—something woman are awesome at!"