There are very few things that I love more than science. From medicine that makes me feel better when I’m sick, to all of the technology that creates and streams my favorite show right into my living room, science is the answer. Want all of human knowledge in your pocket and at your fingertips? Thank you, internet and cellphones – brought to you by science. Love to travel to other countries within hours? Thank you, jetliners and jet fuel – brought to you by science. Is one of your loved ones in remission from cancer? Thank you, chemotherapy and radiotherapy – brought to you, you guessed it, by science. STEM fields are an essential part of our daily modern lives yet there are many people who have traditionally been (and still are) excluded from the conversation. Imagine how much closer we would be to finding a cure for HIV/AIDS, or to colonizing Mars, or to solving climate change if we had embraced underrepresented groups in the scientific community. This is why organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Lyda Hill Philanthropies are spending a considerable amount of time and effort to increase diversity in STEM fields by creating initiatives such as IF/THEN®.
Courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies – The logo for AAAS’ and Lyda Hill Philanthropies’ IF/THEN® initiative.
Photo courtesy of AAAS – 25 of the 125 IF/THEN® Ambassadors for 2020. Scientist, science educator, and CNMF Community Outreach Coordinator Samantha Wynns is depicted 3rd column over, 4th row down.
IF/THEN® is a slogan that refers to “IF we support a woman in STEM, THEN she can change the world”. Lyda Hill, founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, states, “The goal of IF/THEN® is to shift the way our country—and the world—think about women in STEM and this requires changing the narratives about women STEM professionals and improving their visibility.”
To achieve this goal, AAAS IF/THEN® selected 125 female STEM professionals as Ambassadors who will connect with students in person and through various media platforms, including popular YouTube channels and network television shows. The Ambassadors are contemporary role models who represent a diversity of STEM-related professions in the United States, from entertainment, fashion, sports, business and academia.
“AAAS is deeply committed to advancing education and opportunities for girls and women in STEM,” said Margaret Hamburg, chair of the AAAS Board of Directors. “This partnership enables us to reach more deeply into STEM education and help advance STEM careers for women and girls. It will help us to elevate the voices of women working in STEM fields and to inspire the next generation of girls and women in science.”
Photo courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies – The IF/THEN® Initiative’s guiding statement which includes the challenge and strategies to overcome it.
Photo courtesy of Lyda Hill Philanthropies – The IF/THEN® Initiative’s four key elements to success: 1) Ambassadors 2) Coalition 3) Collection 4) Grants.
To my honor, I was selected as an IF/THEN® Ambassador which means I will have the opportunity to encourage girls to pursue STEM and to foster environmental stewardship on a larger, and perhaps more meaningful, scale than ever before.
NPS photo courtesy of Setareh Nouribohsheri – AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Samantha Wynns sits with campers during EcoLogik, Cabrillo National Monument’s free STEM summer camp for girls.
NPS photo courtesy of Setareh Nouribohsheri – AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Samantha Wynns stoops to help campers as they take data during EcoLogik, Cabrillo National Monument’s free STEM summer camp for girls.
Though the announcement went out September 9th, the end of October heralded the real kick-off of the IF/THEN® Initiative with the IF/THEN® Summit. The Summit was a whirlwind of workshops, photo shoots, interviews, galas, and networking events that were organized with the aim of preparing the IF/THEN® Ambassadors to become high-profile role models in STEM. I rushed from one event to the next, eager to absorb as much information as possible and to leverage this incredible opportunity as much as I could. It was utterly exhausting and utterly exhilarating – the single best conference I have ever attended. There are so many factors that can be attributed to such a successful event, but one of the most important is the Ambassadors themselves. These incredible women are so diverse – backgrounds, ethnicities, stages of careers, ability, and STEM fields are represented in a beautiful mosaic that portrays to the world that this is what a scientist looks like.
AAAS Photo courtesy of Kristin Lewis – The 125 IF/THEN® Ambassadors gather for one of the intensive science communication workshops during the summit.
NPS photo courtesy of Samantha Wynns – Legendary Oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle speaking during the IF/THEN® Summit.
AAAS Photo courtesy of Kristin Lewis – A snapshot of 6 of the 125 AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassadors. Scientist, science educator, and CNMF Outreach Coordinator Samantha Wynns stands tall in the back.
This is what a scientist looks like, and these scientists are valued. The amount of support I received at the summit was unparalleled to anything I have ever experienced in my life: every aspect of the conference was cultivated to demonstrate to us that what we do matters – that what I, as a conservation biologist and science educator, do is important. This support was spearheaded by AAAS and Lyda Hill Philanthropies and bolstered by a coalition of organizations that believe in the same mission: that representation matters (see list of coalition members below).
According to the National Science Foundation, although half of the U.S. college-educated workforce are women, they only hold less than 30% of STEM jobs. Minority women, in particular, are underrepresented: fewer than 1 in 10 are employed female scientists and engineers of color. Why is this happening? Research draws a direct connection to visibility and representation. Simply put, if girls see STEM professionals that look like them, they can imagine themselves in those roles. And if they imagine themselves in STEM roles, then they are far more likely to pursue a STEM career as they get older. Each member of the IF/THEN® coalition of organizations is involved in this initiative because they recognize that IF she (girls) can see it, THEN she can be it (a scientist).
AAAS Photo courtesy of Kristen Lewis – Actress and STEM advocate Geena Davis poses next to scientist Samantha Wynns and several other IF/THEN® Ambassadors before the summit’s gala.
A list of the IF/THEN® coalition member organizations.
I am honored to be chosen as a STEM Ambassador, and to be amongst these 125 powerful changemakers. I look forward to whatever the year brings, and I know that it will only serve to support the vital mission of the National Park Service to preserve and protect this nation’s cultural, historical, and natural resources for this and future generations. Because IF we support a woman (or a girl) in STEM, THEN she can change the world.
Stay tuned for updates of the IF/THEN® Initiative and my year as an ambassador.
AAAS photo courtesy of Kristin Lewis – The 125 IF/THEN® Ambassadors gather on the steps to the Perot Museum in Dallas to take a group shot.
More on the IF/THEN® Initiative:
Statistics on Women in STEM:
National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering: 2017. https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvygrads/
Hill, C., Corbett, C.c & St. Rose, A. (2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, DC: AAUW.
Carlone, H.B., Johnson, A., & Scott, C.M. (2015). Agency amidst formidable structures: How girls perform gender in science class. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 52(4), 474-488.
Diekman, A.B., Weisgram, E.S., & Belanger, A.L. (2015). New routes to recruiting and retaining women in STEM: Policy implications of a communal goal congruity perspective. Social Issues and Policy Review, 9(1), 52-88.
November 27, 2019
Last updated: November 27, 2019