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story.lead_photo.caption The Sentinel-Record/Mara Kuhn WOMEN MENTORS: Rebekah Robinette, pictured above, and other speakers Alanah Claybaugh, Suzanne Mitchell and Andrea Roberts discussed STEM fields and mentors Wednesday for a Million Women Mentors launch at National Park College. The national initiative is meant to advance girls and women in STEM careers through mentoring. - Photo by Mara Kuhn

State and local speakers addressed the need to encourage more women to pursue interests in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics Wednesday during a local launch of the Million Women Mentors movement.

National Park College hosted several speakers and more than 115 visitors Wednesday in the Dr. Martin Eisele Auditorium of the Frederick M. Dierks Center for Nursing and Health Sciences. Million Women Mentors is an initiative of STEMconnector in collaboration with more than 60 partners, 45 corporate sponsors and 35 state leadership teams.

The initiative is meant to reach more than 30 million girls and women to increase interest and their confidence to persist and succeed in STEM programs and careers. One million mentors, male and female, are being sought to help increase the percentage of high school girls planning to pursue STEM careers, increase the percentage of young women pursuing undergraduate degrees in STEM fields and increase the percentage of women staying and advancing in STEM careers through supporting workforce mentoring programs.

Wal-Mart has pledged to work with 5,000 mentees in Arkansas by 2018. The program was launched in the state in partnership with Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.

Roberts

Andrea Roberts, senior manager of STEM strategy at Wal-Mart, said more than 2,000 pledges have already been made since February. She said the pledge goal could be doubled or tripled before 2018.

"We are already doing a fantastic job in reaching mentees," Roberts said.

The initiative has accumulated more than 30,000 pledges in recent weeks to raise its overall total to almost 684,000 from 40 states. The total is updated daily at http://www.millionwomenmentors.org.

Kelli Albrecht, NPC vice president for workforce and strategic initiatives, said events such as Wednesday's launch are meant to help students understand the STEM opportunities available to them and possible mentors. She and NPC President John Hogan welcomed the visitors to campus.

"We are very proud to be part of this," Hogan said. "We are very proud to encourage students, in this case women, to enter in careers that will help them and the state of Arkansas."

Roberts said other launches were held earlier this year in Bentonville, Little Rock and Pine Bluff. Future events have been planned for Fort Smith, El Dorado, Jonesboro and Texarkana.

Rebekah Robinette explained the role of mentors in her path to becoming an instructor of microbiology, anatomy and physiology at the college. She is also an alum.

Robinette lived in Benton when she originally traveled to Hot Springs with a friend to visit Magic Springs. They decided after learning Magic Springs was closed to go to Mid-America Science Museum.

They passed the college campus on their way to the museum and it sparked her interest in attending the school. She said the decision to attend college was a radical decision to her family, but she began classes in Hot Springs 20 years ago.

Robinette said she was immediately intimidated by former instructor Ann Bragg. She excelled in school, but she had to commute and encountered anxiety. Robinette said Bragg helped her through it.

"I just knew that Dr. Bragg was teaching me something I could use," Robinette said.

Bragg traveled with her when she later began college in North Carolina. Multiple local supporters traveled to Florida when she earned a doctorate. Robinette said Bragg and other mentors supported her academically, emotionally and financially throughout her education.

"Having that encouragement made a big difference in my life, obviously," Robinette said. "So much so that -- I could be making much more in the STEM field -- but I moved back here and replaced Dr. Bragg on this campus to continue her mentorship for these students. It's the most rewarding thing you can do."

Claybaugh

Alanah Claybaugh said similar mentorship experiences have encouraged her to pursue her interests at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. She is the first student to be accepted into ASMSA from Mansfield.

Her counselor at Mansfield was an ASMSA alum from Ozark. She said her counselor mentored her through the application process and helped convince her parents of the opportunities the school offered.

Claybaugh worked on a science project last year as a junior with a senior partner. The pair won multiple awards at the end of the year with the help of various mentors. Claybaugh is conducting her own project this year.

"I am trying to write protocols on a project that has never been done before and he has emailed me all summer, day in and day out," Claybaugh said. "It was incredible. I am about to start testing, actually now, and I could not have done any of this without him."

Claybaugh said the encouragement of her mentors has been crucial to her success.

"I would like to say thank you, not only to my personal mentors, but to everyone who has been a mentor," Claybaugh said. "You have changed a life."

Mitchell

Suzanne Mitchell, executive director of the Arkansas STEM Coalition, said she required her daughters to take science and math classes every year. She is also a professor at Arkansas State University and the No Child Left Behind coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. Mitchell continued to require her children to take math and science courses in college.

"By then, they didn't complain," Mitchell said. "They knew I wouldn't give. I didn't really talk to them much about what type of career they should go into, but I knew in the background I was helping them lay that foundation to make a really good choice."

One daughter became a chemical engineer and is now a vice president of a regional oil and gas company. The other daughter is a pharmacist.

Mitchell said the role of the Arkansas STEM Coalition is to be a catalyst for students and develop a pipeline of skilled workers for the state.

"I say all of this to tell you that we cannot give up on our students, especially we cannot give up on our girls," Mitchell said. "We need to give them more options and opportunities."

Diane LaFollette, executive director of Mid-America Science Museum, introduced Griffin on Wednesday. Griffin said the emphasis on female students in STEM is a "numbers game."

He said current data shows about 50 percent of male high school graduates show interest in STEM fields. Only about 12 percent of female graduates are interested in STEM.

"It just tells me that something else is going on," Griffin said. "It tells me that, first of all, we are missing out on a lot of brain power in the STEM area because a lot of those young ladies are not interested."

Griffin said Million Women Mentors is about recognizing and developing mentor relationships and progressing the work in STEM fields, which he said are now part of every day life.

"It's like saying why are we interested in the sun, air or dirt," Griffin said. "It's just one of the fundamental building blocks of our society."

Roberts said Wal-Mart and STEMconnector hope to grow the program across the country and the rest of the world.

The Sentinel-Record/Mara Kuhn PARTNERSHIP: Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said the emphasis of Million Women Mentors is needed to address a shortage of girls and women interested in STEM careers. Wal-Mart partnered with STEMConnector and Griffin to launch the initiative in Arkansas.

"Lt. Gov. (Griffin) also said it's not just about coming here and talking about it," Roberts said. "It's what are we going to do next. We need to make sure that this program is sustainable in our communities. We are working to figure out the best way to do that and we want to provide you the tools that we can."

Mentors are asked to have experience in STEM fields and be able to volunteer 20 hours per year. A 52-week curriculum is available to help mentors through the process. Additional information about how to volunteer is available at http://www.arkansasstemcoalition.com.

Local on 08/25/2016

Print Headline: Initiative encourages girls, women in STEM fields

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