Women’s History Month is in full swing, and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) is helping to meet the challenge of encouraging young women to become scientists.
The Technovation Challenge — funded by ONR to introduce girls to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers — provides an opportunity for girls from around the country to design and pitch mobile phone apps to leaders in computer science and business.
The challenge spans 12 weeks and ends May 1 at the World Pitch event in San Francisco. During the challenge, teams of high school girls are mentored in design, computer coding and business; nearly every mentor is female.
“ONR is helping girls develop into future technology leaders,” said Cmdr. Joseph Cohn, deputy director of research for Navy STEM. “We understand the importance of recognizing the historic technological contributions women have made. We also need to celebrate the efforts girls and young women—tomorrow’s leaders—are making today.”
ONR’s support has helped the Technovation Challenge transition from a pilot program for 45 girls in a single location to a nationwide program. It has since expanded to 18 countries.
Promoting opportunities in STEM has become a priority for the Department of Defense — over 50 percent of Department of Navy’s science and engineering workforce is over the age of 40 and over 50 percent will be retirement eligible by 2020.
Recruiting younger scientists and engineers is an ongoing challenge, particularly among under-represented populations.
“We want to find the right way to create a very different approach—a paradigm shift—in how to inspire not just women, but everyone, to have a long-term interest in STEM.”
ONR has provided funding since the program’s inception in 2009. The Technovation Challenge meets key priorities of the Navy’s STEM Roadmap: Inspire, Engage, Educate and Collaborate. Meeting these priorities are in line with the Chief of Naval Operations’ stated priority of building a relevant and capable future force among a diverse workforce of Navy civilians.
“The Navy was extremely visionary in being an early supporter of Technovation,” said Tara Chklovski, CEO and founder of Iridescent, which runs the challenge. “They believed in the program’s potential, as well as in the importance of bringing women into computer science as inventors, not just users. The Navy has always funded revolutionary technology and used the same vision in supporting STEM programs.”
Women and girls are not well represented in the computer science and information technology domains, even as these fields are becoming increasingly relevant to the nation—and few STEM programs are designed to educate high school girls about those domains.
“If we are to solve the world’s biggest problems in innovative ways, then we need diverse perspectives at the table,” said Chklovski.
Making those views available is part of the Navy’s continued STEM efforts.
“The Technovation Challenge opened a whole new program space that did not exist before,” Cohn said. “We wanted to show that even a little money can inspire a large number of kids. The program helps girls see and visualize people like them doing this job and understand how Navy S&T is relevant to their lives.”
Collaborating on the Technovation Challenge is just one part of the Navy’s STEM outreach. ONR is the Navy’s executive agent for STEM-related efforts. For more information about the Navy’s STEM efforts, visit STEM2Stern.
By Matthew Sablan, Office of Naval Research
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