Week 8 -- Stepping Up

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Saturday, July 29, 2017


Justine Boecker

This past week was spent in Miami being a part of an exciting project called STEP UP for Women. The goal is for one out of every three high school physics teachers in the United States to recruit one female student into physics each year. If this goal is met, it will close the gender gap in physics. The meeting was held at Florida International University where a group of master physics teachers from across the country consulted on lessons and strategies to achieve this goal. I was interested to see a project like this at a different place in the process than I have seen before. I am observing what happens with a project after there is funding.

STEP UP for Women is addressing something I feel strongly about. I, along with my friend Morgan, started the first Women in Physics and Engineering group at my school. My year of students had been uncharacteristically high in number of women with seven. We established the group with a three-part purpose. The first to build community among the women in the program. It is not unusual as a woman in physics to have a class in which they are the only one. It was important to provide opportunities for those women to meet and build relationships with the other woman. The second part of the purpose  is to build community within the department as a whole, including the men. As women in physics, we know that it is absolutely necessary to feel comfortable and belong in a group of men. To address these two goals, the group held monthly events. Most were all inclusive, but there were a few that were more specifically interesting to women. The final goal is to engage with prospective students. We wanted to specifically speak with women as they toured the department.

As much as I want to be able to say that everything with the club was easy, well supported, and we were incredibly influential, I can’t. We faced several challenges throughout our two and half years. There were questions of the group’s relationship to the department itself. There was some discomfort within the department about endorsing and supporting the group. Some of this can be attributed to miscommunication but not all. There was overall more pushback than you might expect at this time in history, and I know that my experience is not unique. With all of this history, seeing the people in Miami as passionate about the issue as I am and also actively taking measures towards a solution made me excited to see that there is so much beyond what I could see in the effort to close the gender gap.

Apart from the work at FIU, I enjoyed several meals and adventures with my mentor and her family. The highlight was a day at the Fairchild Botanical Gardens. There were more lizards and iguanas than we could count. We also had an interesting encounter with a snake. As we were walking up a ramp, the snake was slithering along the wall. After some screams, jumps and running away, the snake seemed as scared of us as we were of it. It made its way over the ledge and back into the trees and fortunately, all four of us survived. *Note I’m pretty sure it was not a poisonous snake.

I have now had total of about 30 hours back in DC and I am again writing this week’s blog post from the DC airport. I am on my way to Cincinnati, OH for the AAPT summer meeting. I am looking forward to all the people I am going to meet and the things I am going to learn in the coming week!

Justine Boecker