Navigating the Intersection of Race and Gender in STEM

Dr. Kimberly A. Scott (Ed.D. ’99), is changing how underrepresented girls think about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by changing the conversations about their participation and level of interest in these fields. 

“We need to teach girls technological skills in a way that interests and makes sense to them,” said Scott. “Girls from underserved communities don’t typically view technology as a way to reach their goals.  It isn’t until we can engage them in issues that are important to them through technology that they begin to use it to create projects.”

Scott, a women and gender studies associate professor in the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University (ASU), and the Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology, was named a STEM Access Champion of Change by the White House in 2014.  Scott was honored in recognition of her development of CompuGirls, a technology program for underrepresented girls that joins the learning of advanced computer skills with key areas of social justice to foster interest in technology and computer science.

Scott’s interest in identity and its effects on heuristics began with her work in a high-needs school district in New Jersey.  There she witnessed teachers lower their expectations and offer fewer opportunities to children with unique backgrounds.  Desiring to lead change and make an impact in the field, Scott decided to pursue her doctorate in Social and philosophical foundations of Education at Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE). 

Scott credits the GSE with honing her ability to think critically about a topic.  “I spent a lot of time with Dr. Giarelli and Dr. Chambliss discovering how to analyze and philosophize a thought.  My dissertation chair, Dr. Boocock helped me reframe my thinking about children and childhood – particularly for girls of color.”

CompuGirls – now beginning its eighth year – is also beginning to enjoy seeing the fruits of its labors as the program’s graduates transform into successful women and professionals.

“We are starting to see some beautiful trends from the first two cohorts,” says Scott.  “The majority of the girls have pursued higher education – a number within STEM fields.  Two of the girls worked with me to publish a book chapter and one of the girls works with her and has garnered undergraduate research assistantships to write, present, and attend academic conferences.”

Primarily funded by the National Science Foundation and the technology company Intel, the program itself is also growing with talks to launch more programs throughout the country and in Ireland and Zambia.  The Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) – which houses the CompuGirls program – is also garnering recognition and support under Scott’s leadership. 

By building knowledge, advocacy and capacity-building programs that enhance the support of underrepresented women and girls as they work to acquire skills to poise them for success, Scott hopes to see the center become the preeminent resource on women and culture and STEM. The center is has expanded outside of ASU’s Phoenix campus to include a location in Washington DC to aid its advocacy efforts, and manages over $4 million in grant funding for its projects including an award from the Gates foundation to examine African American families and their teenage children’s use of technology outside of school.

“We have to integrate ideas of intersectionality of race and gender in our work and in our conversations related to technology,” says Scott.  “If we hope to ever find solutions that address these issues.”