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An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship

May 1, 2019

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 19.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Fifteen)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2019

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,582

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Sandy Marshall is the Founder and CEO of Project Scientist. She discusses: numbers leaving programs; retention; major initiatives and programs of Project Scientist; partnerships with individuals and educational institutes; expanding the scope for boys and girls; analysis of effects; countermovements, and counter trends and organizations; abilities versus preferences; and organizations, books, and speakers.

Keywords: Girls, Mentorship, Project Scientist, Sandy Marshall, STEM, Women.

An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start on the pivotal moment, in personal life for you.

Sandy Marshall: Having the child, I was instantly overwhelmed. I don’t know if this was hormones or what. Once I had this child, “Oh my God, I only have 18 years to solve so many global issues. Where do I put my time?” It was a real concern.

I started to do the research. Why do we have hunger? Why do we have climate issues and environmental issues? Why do we even have those when we have pharmaceutical drugs? How do we get that when we can’t fix hunger?

I started to research into if I had continued on to my STEM major. I wanted to be a doctor. When I hit some challenges with Organic Chemistry, and if I had continued and was an engineer, I certainly would use that knowledge for good, especially if you’re having children.

So, why aren’t more women doing that? I started to research what happens to girls and women in STEM. From ages 4 through Ph.D. and working, there’s a variety of reasons why they drop out and don’t get to where they want to get, and can’t solve these issues that most women have concerns about.

I wanted to change that, at least as young as 4, 5, and 6 when everyone has an interest in science and mathematics. It is such a good tool to grab these girls by the hand and continue with their confidence and interest through middle school and high school.

So, they can solve these issues one day. It is a huge hurdle for representation and the top seats. Even in Academia, the way women are seen, treated and valued. There is a lot of work.

2. Jacobsen: If you were looking or are looking at adolescent girls in STEM and young women in their first years of college who are thinking, maybe, of changing a major into a STEM major, what do you see as their barriers based on the research or the anecdotal evidence that has come to you?

Marshall: With the middle school girls, if you have an interest by the time you get to middle school, which is unusual, you continue with it. What happens in middle school, most kids are challenged by math.

If you’re a bright kid with an aptitude for math, somewhere around middle school, you might finally be challenged. With the research on the boys, they take that challenge on, “Oh, if I work hard enough. I can get through this. If I get a C, it means I can be okay. It means I won’t be a doctor or a chemist.”

With girls, we don’t find that growth mindset. The research says, “Oh, I wasn’t born good at math. I need to change majors to English or walk down the hall to English.” We are trying to change that.

There is a ton of research, by Carol S. Dweck from Stanford. She coined the term “Growth Mindset.” Not bad! That is some of the work that we do with girls, especially around math. We have female STEM professionals come and talk to them.

They talk about math, whether they were good or not. Even if you got through it, with a C, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be whatever you want to be. It takes practice: “I had to get a tutor. I had to work hard.”

A lot of time, that is what happens in middle school. Of course, you don’t have a lot of female instructors around STEM subjects in middle school and high school. An absence of that. If you have a male instructor and mostly male in the classroom, especially an AP class, you start to lose confidence.

You don’t have anyone to study with, or who thinks like you or represents you. You start to lose confidence. We need more female teaching. We need more female professors in STEM. Taking that perspective to girls and that orientation.

As far as the college is interesting, I am U of C tomorrow, which is for undergraduate female scientists. They are already in STEM. Switching to STEM, obviously, you will have fewer female classmates and fewer female professors.

The stereotyping is still there. I was at a party before Thanksgiving. I met a prominent neuroscientist, a professor. When my husband told him what I do, he said, “There is only one thing women need to worry about in science. And that’s menstruation.”

He is a professor at a prominent school. We all need, unfortunately, our scripts. I still need them. You practice them with their colleagues, how women react to those things. You still don’t know how to react to those things.

You fall into these patterns of how we have always reacted to it, I guess. “I guess they’re right. I need to change my major. I need to change my class. I need to change my this.” We start developing scripts for girls and women to practice in these situations, so it starts from a better place.

3. Jacobsen: What about guidance to young women, say college age, by older women, whether in or out of university, in terms of what they might expect as they’re moving through their early professional lives, in their training, in their education?

Now, they may not necessarily expect the young women to get through the exact same things that they went through, say two generations ago, but they can, certainly, expect, and, therefore, guide them with anecdotes about what they might expect similarly in a, maybe, marginally attenuated form.

So, there is a certain psychological preparedness for it, similar to what you’re saying about having those scrips.

Marshall: There are a lot of programs out there like that. There is one called WISTEM. Their pilot is program is doing exactly that. It is connecting professional women with college-age women, to mentor them.

I want to preface. This conversation is around what girls and women can do with the current state, to make it a better situation. There’s equal input, equal value, equal time to both. I am not saying it should all fall on women’s shoulders to solve it.

It is super valuable. Some of the schools, like the engineering schools. Where, in recent years, the statistics have been deplorable. One in having women accepted. Once accepted, how many change majors? A lot of engineering schools are having mentoring programs for it.

4. Jacobsen: Is it large numbers leaving it?

Marshall: The numbers have improved. In Cal Tech, their numbers have jumped, how many females they’re accepting. I know UCIrvine for engineering has increased. USC has too. We will see in the next few years if they can maintain those numbers by their senior year.

5. Jacobsen: What have been shown, empirically, as effective retention methodologies apart from more women professors graduate students who can mentor or friendly policies for better environments? That may be more conducive to healthy college life, engineering school life, for young women.

Marshall: The challenges come with more postdocs and female professors. There are policies around sexual harassment and gender equality. It is still hard for people to come forward. The stories are not public.

They are not coming out. Because people [Laughing] don’t want to lose their jobs. At least, it is better. There are policies in place. At least, there are departments that people are told to go to. It is mostly women telling other women what is happening.

But people are not comfortable with it. There needs to be more active.

6. Jacobsen: If we are looking at major programs and initiatives of Project Scientist, what are those?

Marshall: [Laughing] Yeah! [Ed. There was an approximately hour-long in-depth discussion prior to the interview.]

So, we target young girls. Obviously, we work with women at the university level and in countries all over the world. Our goal at Project Scientist is to grab girls at 4, 5, and 6 when everyone has an interest in science.

It is to make sure they are confident in their interest and do not lose it by middle school. We are the only program nationally (US) to focus on girls as young as 4, 5, and 6. We go to age 12. We have a program just for girls on university campuses.

Every day, male and female STEM professionals talk to them about their careers, their educations, failures they have had to overcome, and really build that resiliency and variety in STEM careers and majors.

Wednesdays, our girls get on a bus and visit STEM companies and universities, so girls can see women firsthand in this space. What they do and excelling in this space, we also only hire teachers, because we want to help that workforce be better as well.

To make them more confident in their skills, so the girls are as confident as the boys, it is bringing that attitude back into it. In elementary school, there is research. When girls have a female teacher that says, “I was never good at math.” That resonates with them, “Oh, girls aren’t good at math.”

We are working to help elementary teachers feel more confident. We run 6-week summer academies on university campuses like Cal Tech, USC, LSU, North Carolina, and in Orange County California.

We serve 40% of our girls coming from low-income households. We have a very diverse group of girls. That is intentional as well. The girls in our program are the girls that really love math and science, and want to be there.

They are in there all day for 6 weeks, every day. They are meeting other girls from other neighbourhoods, other income levels, and other schools. Those who have the same interest. It normalizes that.

Especially if you’re a Latina girl in a low-income school, you may 1) not get recognized that you might have an aptitude. So, you’re not given the challenge that you need. 2) There might not be other kids with interest or knowledge.

You might feel like an outsider. Those lifelong friendships through the Ph.D. It can help keep them on task and pulling through. We work with a lot of women who inspire girls and then women in a variety of fields that STEM encompasses.

It is not only during the school year but also when the school year is over. Martin Luther King Day, for example, we had 50 girls in Irvine visit Johnson&Johnson. We have them go to Google and Medtronic. A ton of companies that specialize.

Then we do pre- and post-testing for our research purposes to prove our outcomes. The first day, girls will draw a scientist. The last day, they will draw too. It is looking for a change in gender, in ideas of what is a scientist and what a scientist does.

Often, we will have girls who say, “I am a scientist on the first day.” On the last day, they are drawing themselves out in the field, in the ocean studying ocean life. They learn. You don’t have to wear a lab coat. You don’t have to be a male.

You don’t have to have glasses. There are a variety of fields in STEM. So, now, when I first started Project Scientist, it was, “How do we build girls’ confidence in their voice.” So, they go back to school in the Fall and work in groups.

Boys say, “I will do the math part. You do the writing.” The girls that we work with are, potentially, better at math or want to do the math more than the writing. It is helping build their voice to say, “I am going to do the math part. I am going to do the engineering part.”

Now, we see with the Me Too movement. Things are changing. Girls are coming in way more confident. Our college interns are way more confident. We are seeing a big change in that, in their confidence level.

For me, I am seeing more work for us to work with the parents, really. A lot of our parents work at STEM companies. We do a family orientation before the Summer starts. It is logistics. We give the parents tools at home.

So, they can inspire the girls in the home and work against the stereotypes that the girls are having. We are having to work more with our parents and have them understand; the STEM companies that they work at, “These are some things that you may not be seeing.”

We make it a better place for women. Even with the girls there, they are thriving, have them be comfortable. This is something that we can probably do more. We have these really brilliant STEM professionals.

7. Jacobsen: Have there been partnerships with, in two ways, from individuals and educational institutes to groups of girls? For instance, as we know, an older woman scientist mentor can make a huge difference in the trajectory, success trajectory, of a girl or young woman who is interested in pursuing a STEM field.

Is there a similar way in which it’s, for instance, a Latina girl or someone who comes from a lower SES or background, matching up with someone older who knows the struggles and has overcome them? The institute to group question: is their partnerships with institutes or centres with girls who are interested in STEM with these co-op opportunities, these intern opportunities.

Marshall: There are some programs out there. As our girls age out, for example, we are working more with the university campuses and the other programs that exist, to make sure our girls are ageing into the STEM programs.

Some of them focus on exactly what you’re talking about. At CalTech, for example, our girls are starting to age into hands-on research in CalTech labs with postdocs and professors. We are doing that.

Our college internships is a big program for us. They are influencing the girls during the Summer. They are meeting the STEM professionals every day. They visit these companies. They are making relationships and mentorships on their own. We have had some post-interviews with them, with these interns.

How Project Scientist has impacted them, and their interest in their major in STEM, they stated two ways. One way is when they work with the younger students and inspiring them. They are inspiring themselves.

They are gaining confidence in themselves. I am teaching them and talking to them about what they do, how the young girls look up to them. That is good in terms of keeping them on track. They have also mentioned seeing and speaking with these women in the field.

They are learning from them and making relationships as they see fit. That is one thing. We have also started a new relationship with an organization called Boundless Brilliance. It was started by females that attend Occidental College in LA.

They were all STEM majors and started it for themselves. They created a curriculum with Occidental professors around building confidence, leadership skills, interest in STEM for girls, and the women in this program are training on these tools and techniques.

They are also training on a variety of experiments. They go into schools a couple of times a month. Typically, it is lower income schools. They will teach them these skills. Their experience of that.

The classroom is mixed with boys and girls. But again, bringing out these women to show boys and girls, these are women in the field and in these majors. It is normalizing that. So, we are working with them to help to train our interns and then hire their trained undergraduates to serve as our interns here into the summer.

It is giving us better interns, more experienced and better trained. It is giving us a year-round reach with our schools.

8. Jacobsen: What indirect ways in which to advance what is, for the most part, what the international community is aiming for, which is the empowerment of girls of women? Certainly, they have been disenfranchised in many ways to varying degrees.

For instance, could an indirect way to empower girls and women come through almost encouraging the men who have a mediocre talent for engineering but they have a great talent for the caring professions, e.g., nursing? It is encouraging boys and young men into the fields requiring skills not necessarily core requirements for engineering.

You might find someone with a wonderful bedside manner as a GP, a nurse, a nurse practitioner, and so on. The guys that would be going into engineering, but instead are going into the caring professions.

In that way, it is providing almost an example of the flexibility and better balance within the general culture compared to what we currently have, which, as we both know, guys simply have to achieve, achieve, achieve in just one domain.

It is a very narrow of things, but it is also doing whatever you want – but along certain stereotypical patterns. It may not be healthy for them. It may not be healthy examples for the women and men in their lives, or the culture in general.

Marshall: You’re absolutely right. It all needs to be normalized, right? [Laughing] Both sides. It is funny. My 8-year-old was in a talent show for their elementary school. I said to my sister, “It is so sad. 80% of the participants were female. Why aren’t there more boys?”

Jacobsen: What was the special talent?

Marshall: It was anything: puppet show, anything. There is still competition to get into it. As long as you’re confident, you can get into it. There was one boy group. I think it’s just women are conditioned more to do it.

I don’t know. It isn’t normalized. So, to have that culture where boys can do that too, it is interesting. The backbone of our product is SciGirls, which is a PBS show out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is really great shows featuring girls ages 12 to 13 doing real science with women in the field and real research.

Off those shows, they build the curriculum. It is free for any school, anyone, to use. But we are trained in the SciGirls curriculum. We train teachers to use it, to utilize the videos and the curriculum.

The SciGirls 7 is based on research on how to best teach girls STEM. Girls like to be collaborative. Many boys, whether it is taught/learned or not, prefer competition to excel; whereas, most girls would prefer to collaborate.

Our projects are done in groups of 4. They take turns collaborating. They seem to enjoy that. You don’t have coding competitions or things like this on Project Scientist. Girls, in STEM, like to know what they are learning is going to further help them or help someone improve the world.

Whether the experiments will have a dotted line to, “Okay, you learned about buoyancy. Here is a quick clip about a woman who works with buoyancy in her field. How is learning about buoyancy help you help the world?” Then we discuss that.

It really engages the girls into why they’re learning things, what it could potentially mean for them the world and the future. There is a good study from the Girl Scouts. It is, I think, 90% of STEM girls want to use the knowledge to help people solve the world’s problems.

9. Jacobsen: That makes me think back to the example of the drawings. When girls enter the drawings, they draw a scientist. When they leave, they draw themselves. You have a pre and post set of conditions.

What about a post-post condition in a similar time frame as between the pre and the first post? Where they are outside and not connected directly to the program. But then, they are brought back in, and they draw pictures under similar conditions again, to see if this has been a relatively crystallized internalization or something that has dissipated completely or has dissipated to some degree in between.

Marshall: Yes, you mean if they have aged out of the program.

Jacobsen: Yes.

Marshall: I would love that. If you could talk to the National Science Foundation, we would love a longitudinal study [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Marshall: We would love it. We want a longitudinal study. Are we really having an impact? The first cohort of girls I had in the guest house. They are ageing out this year. They are just ageing out. Those girls, they are phenomenal. They are going to gifted charter schools and winning international innovation competitions.

But as we grow, and as we serve a wider group of girls and cities all over, it would be really interesting, especially as they are hitting that middle school age when girls drop out. It would be useful to compare girls who had our program and girls did not have our program.

Our theory is that we’re building up their confidence in a variety of ways. They are seeing these women in research. If you see these women in so many careers, so many fields, and so many companies, you should be able to lay back on that, as you encounter some challenges in middle school and high school.

10. Jacobsen: So, of course, with any social good movement or institution, there, typically, is a concomitant countermovement or set of counter-institutions that can arise in culture. Typically, this will arise in a culture with the finances to found both.

This raises some questions. I will try to narrow down to one if I can. Who, or what, tend to be trends or organizations within American society that work against the advancement and empowerment of girls in STEM, basically, as a whole? And why those particular trends and forces, and organizations?

Marshall: It is the fact that our transparency and policies have not caught up with what we’re saying and trying to do if that makes sense. It is still not a safe place to be a whistleblower in a variety of instances [Laughing].

Even if, as we highlight girls from our program doing amazing things, for example, two sisters from Santa Ana who have scholarships. One of them got accepted to a very prestigious private middle school-high school, full ride, which is 6 years: transportation, computers, sports, whatever she needs.

We love to highlight those stories. When we talk so much in the media where we’re failing, we lose sight of where we’re succeeding. Girls need to hear and see the success stories. We also need to have a way for people to come forward. It’s not working.

I am not sure anything is there yet in corporate America or Academia. People are trying. But there’s a lot of people being silent about what is really happening.

11. Jacobsen: That’s a topic that needs to be talked about more. That’s where the damage is being done, for sure. It seems like conscious negligence in many instances. “Why should we empower them? Haven’t you seen these innate differences?” These sorts of argument. I think they have dropped the argument.

Now, “it’s innate preference differences,” which sounds like some of these forces are losing a lot of ground. 

Marshall: If a company were to excel at this and truly have this transparency, a lot of them are trying. They are talking about it. They have learned through [Laughing] lawsuits and other high-profile instances.

There is a shortage of – they all say – female talent. They are all clamouring to get these women coming out of college. They would attract these women. They are super successful if they were to have a culture like this.

That goes to all the research on women employees and how productive, more efficient, and the team players in culture. All the benefits this produces.

12. Jacobsen: What organizations or books, or speakers, would you recommend for the audience today?

Marshall: For parents, the girls 4 to 12. There is a website called Mighty Girl. They have a great Facebook and newsletter. We are constantly reposting their information. It is a great resource. They have a book resource by age. It is anything from STEM to bullying to issues around girls.

Mighty Girls is a great organization to look at resources for parents. For women, as you mentioned earlier, especially the college women, find a mentor, there is the Million Mentors program.

To find a mentor to go to, for all of us, even internally in companies, it is important. That’s it.

13. Jacobsen: Thank you much for the opportunity and your time, Sandy.

Marshall: Yes! Thank you.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder and CEO, Project Scientist.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 1, 2019: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship [Online].May 2019; 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2019, May 1). An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and MentorshipRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A, May. 2019. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2019. “An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 20.A (May 2019). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and MentorshipIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2019, ‘An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and MentorshipIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 20.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 20.A (2019):May. 2019. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Sandy Marshall on Project Scientist, Girls and Women in STEM, and Mentorship [Internet]. (2019, May 20(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/marshall.

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Copyright

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