Daily Iowan: “Black Girls Do Science” Hopes to Increase Female African American Engineers

By Cindy Garcia
Daily Iowan

Nervously huddled young girls this weekend might have charted out future careers altering a trend that shows a lack of diversity in engineering fields.  

“We’re augmenting, not replacing, the gender specific programs for STEM and focusing on a more specific problem,” said Bryne Berry, a UI engineering graduate and the

founder of Black Girls Do Science. “So by having this program, we’re trying to have the phrase ‘Black Girls Do Science’ be redundant, not inflammatory.”

The organization primarily intends to help the severe disparities in engineering, which do not just come from gender but also race. According to a 2013 National Science Foundation report, 17 percent of women are U.S. scientists and engineers. Out of that population, only 2 percent are African-American women.

The effort to increase the number culminated in the third-annual Black Girls Do Science event in the Seamans Center on May 2.

The event was aimed at African-American girls in the area; it encouraged them to consider entering the STEM field as they grow older.

The target for the event was African-American girls in fourth through eighth grades.

The event comprised variety of workshops that involved a variety of disciplines in STEM, such as computer science, medicine, and engineering.

The girls could make “bunny copters,” “gum drop towers,” and lip gloss — among other things.

“For the lip gloss activity, it’s just Kool-Aid and Vaseline. But it’s just, ‘We want lip gloss, so what’s lip gloss like? OK, how would we get the same consistency as a lip gloss?” said Eno-Abasi Augustine-akpan, the vice president of the committee that planned the event. “ ‘Oh, Vaseline.’ Then they throw out all these examples.”

The goal is to get the girls thinking in a scientific manner.

“So it gets them thinking — if I want to do something, what steps do I need to take in order to get there?” she said.

Although the event has not seen major changes throughout the years, there has been slight growth. In 2013, 44 girls participated. In 2014, 77 girls participated.

At the May 2 event, however, 33 girls participated.

“One of the problems we had last year was that we weren't having a lot of Cedar Rapids or Iowa City people coming, but we’d have people from the Quad Cities and Davenport come,” Augustine-akpan said. “So from this year to last year, we have a more local focus and we have more local girls coming.”

There was also consensus that the program would affect girls who participated, even if the effect was slight.

“I know we have girls saying they really want to come back next year,” said Siddig Siddig, the president of the UI chapter of National Society of Black Engineers.

Augustine-akpan stressed the need for diversity.

“The world’s changing. We need different things,” she said. “The more minds you have, the more innovative you can be. Different cultures bring different aspects of something, a different way of thinking.”

Berry said around half of the girls present at the event were there for the second year, which shows how the event is showing that black girls do science.

“Really, if we only affect one girl, I think that’s enough because it just took one teacher to get me involved in science,” Berry said.