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Making GAINS in STEM

A group of six girls were selected to attend the GAINS Conference (Girls Advancing in STEM) in New York City from March 26-28. Three seniors and three juniors along with faculty Mackenzie Chaput and CK Kennedy, explored their interests in science, math, engineering, and technology and how these fields interconnect for innovation. They also learned how women are participating and leading in these fields today. Enjoy their blog of their exciting trip to New York below!


Unknown-1-2.jpegWe reached the Big Apple in record time, Mrs. Chaput navigating the Mercedes van through the hectic city streets, pulling curbside to our adorable, boutique hotel at half past noon. After admiring the lobby’s décor and checking into our rooms, we set off to lunch at Cava, a Mediterranean Chipotle-esque restaurant in Union Square (delicious, 10/10 would recommend). We ate and chatted with one another, anticipating the rest of the day’s events with excitement.

We finished our lunch with enough time to take the scenic route to the conference’s opening events, taking in the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, the Flat Iron Building, Times Square, the Chrysler Building, and several dozen dogs whom we unfortunately didn’t get to pet.

Upon arriving at the OATH offices, a branding company hosting the conference, we realized that our expectations needed some adjusting. Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” was the soundtrack to our awe as we took in the room around us. A glass wall, illuminated with colorful lights, cast a dreamlike filter over the group of girls that were already experiencing the various STEM based activities across the white monochrome studio. We were greeted by multiple friendly faces, one of which was Ann Decker, the founder of the GAINS program, who introduced herself before guiding us toward the interactive math and science based games and activities, as well as an augmented reality exhibit. All of us were able to immerse ourselves into different virtual realities from surfing off of the coast of Costa Rica to a war zone in Syria.

Unknown-9.jpegThe activities came to a close as we were ushered into the adjacent room, a purple hue cast over the modern dining area by a set of futuristic lights. An executive and three engineers from Rent the Runway were the keynote speakers. The four women explained how their company, despite its focus on fashion, is actually driven by engineering. We learned how women in software engineering are working to solve real problems that affect many women in America and around the world, and we got some good advice about starting a company from scratch and following our passions in STEM. Following the keynote presentation was a dinner of either make-your-own Mexican or mac and cheese and a dessert featuring both a blowtorch and liquid nitrogen. We wandered back to our hotel after our meal, stopping in Korea Town for some frozen yogurt before settling into our cozy hotel rooms for the night, getting rest before our full schedule for the next day.

--Abby Park ’18 and Danielle Plunkett ’18


Unknown-2.jpegToday, after a restful night’s sleep and a great breakfast of fresh NY bagels and gourmet coffees, we headed off to the OATH offices on Broadway to kick off the morning’s activities. First off was a panel discussion, sponsored by #builtbygirls, where we heard from three young women entrepreneurs, who shared their insight about starting a business and surrounding yourself with people to help you succeed. We heard from the co-founder of Spoon University, a food blog populating college campuses across the country; the founder of an innovative plant company; and the founder of Mented, a cosmetic company for women of color.

After the panel we broke out into assigned groups for the “Career Mixer” activity, which served as an opportunity for us to meet various STEM professionals. Each student had the opportunity to ask what it means to be a powerful woman advancing in a science, math or technology heavy career. We heard from inspiring woman, both new and experienced in their respective STEM careers, including a fascinating discussion with a NYU professor making groundbreaking discoveries in the understanding of dark matter. Lunch soon broke out on the 9th floor, home to a newly renovated lounge for companies such as Yahoo and Huffington post. The excitement in the air truly made everyone happy to be in a place where students with common interests were eager to learn about how women were open to an advancing society through STEM careers.

After lunch we were invited on various tours that revolved around math, science, engineering, and technology. Examples include tours of the Central Park Zoo, the NYU MakerSpace, a Computer-aided Drug Design lab, and a Science History Walking Tour. The walking tour allowed us to get a feel for the history behind New York City and the way science played into everyday life. During the Central Park Zoo tour, students got to follow zookeepers around their daily routine and ask about their personal experience working with animals. Our favorite part of the day was the tour of the NYU Biomolecular and Chemical Engineering lab in which we were shown the research students were working on at the time. Lindsay, a student in NYU’s dual MD/PhD program, explained her research about developing a way to more efficiently cure breast cancer.

We reconvened for a pizza dinner at Build Studio where we enjoyed an exciting interview of two women working in the STEM field. They told their journeys of their pursuits of successful careers as a conservation ecologist and a molecular engineer, while advising the crowd to never stop pursuing our passions and to never be afraid to be powerful and to have an independent voice.

After we left the conference for the day, we enjoyed unwinding at The Black Tap, a milkshake restaurant we discovered. After a relaxing meal with the most extravagant and complex milkshakes I have ever seen or even imagined, we headed back to the hotel for the night, eagerly looking forward to our last day at the conference.

 --Lily Carlson ’18 and Sophie Browning ’19


Unfortunately, today was the third and last day of the GAINS conference. We started off the day around 8:45 in the morning where we all met and found the hotel lobby swarmed with people from the conference checking out of the hotel. This was the moment when we realized that the conference was truly coming to an end and we would have to return home after having such an incredible opportunity.

file4-1When we at last arrived at the conference, we were split into our morning breakout sessions including Accessible App Development; Yes, You Belong Here: Why STEM Needs Creative Women; Women in The Sciences and Engineering: An Undergraduate Perspective, and more. These technical talks allowed us to be in smaller sessions where we could have intimate discussions with the speakers and ask any questions we wanted. An example of a breakout session is one led by Rebekah Lowin, an inspirational writer and speaker based in New York City. According to our program, since earning her B.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia University, “she has written 500+ articles for nationally-recognized publications, hosted several digital video series for NBC News' Today Show, and appeared as a guest on television news programs across the country.” In her 30-minute talk, we learned that the tech world benefits greatly from creative minds and that creativity belongs in STEM.

We all gathered together after our sessions for the last few minutes of the conference and the “wrap-up,” executed by Ann Decker. We enjoyed a final lunch of appetizing salads with every option you could possibly think of, and our last conversations with the young women we were fortunate to meet throughout the conference. Our host, OATH, also donated a laptop to the GAINS network and one student got the chance to take the device home with them. Decker continued to highlight the generosity and hard work of the women from OATH who worked with the GAINS network and made the conference a reality. She then asked us to write a reflection about the conference that focused on two main questions: “What inspired you to attend this conference?” and “What impacted you the most during your time here?” This reflection will be sent to us in six months to remind us of the special and important moments that we had together as women of STEM.

After thanking and communicating our gratitude to the GAINS network, especially Ann Decker, we headed back to Tabor empowered and inspired!

--Kellie Navarro ’19 and Emma Wang ‘19

Watch a slideshow of the conference.


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Topics: Science Education