NASA Chief Scientist: Play and games can help develop future leaders
The Right To Play Women's Network was privileged to hear from Dr Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist, at the first event of 2016. Dr Stofan spoke about leading the mission to Mars, her experience as one of few women in leadership roles within the STEM fields, and the important role women in science can play in attracting others to join them.
The event also featured a panel discussion chaired by BBC broadcaster, Clare McDonnell. Joining Dr Stofan on the panel were the lead of Microsoft UK's Women's Chapter, Sam Bramwell, and Right To Play UK's Programme Funding Manager, Ross Edgeworth.
The members of the panel addressed the importance of getting more girls to study STEM subjects, with Dr Stofan poignantly asking, "When you face huge challenges you need all hands on deck. Why only tap into 40% of your resources?". She went on to say that it is the children that are learning STEM subjects now that will go on to be the astronauts of the future, and will be the ones to hopefully land on Mars by 2030.
While there is still a shortage of women in STEM subjects in the West, in the majority of the developing countries in which we work, there is an even bigger problem of girls not attending school in the first place. In fact, girls represent 70% of the 130 million children who are out of school around the world.
At Right To Play, we work with local communities to break down cultural barriers through our programmes, thereby enabling more girls to attend school, improve their academic prospects and develop into strong role models. We use games such as Females Score – where two mixed-gender teams compete, yet only female players can score – to both empower girls and change boys' perceptions about the role girls can take in their community.
During the panel discussion, Ross Edgeworth explained how it is often through games such as Females Score that boys and girls will first work together to overcome challenges, giving girls opportunities to participate and develop the confidence and leadership skills to necessary to compete and succeed. Following our games, children take what they have learned into the classroom and wider community.
We know this approach works. Within many of our programme schools in Africa we have seen great improvements in attendance and literacy rates, and numeracy scores increase by four times the rate of non-programme schools between 2010 and 2014.
As ever, there was plenty of opportunity for our guests to meet and mingle with one another over drinks and nibbles at the beginning and end of the evening.
A very big thank you to our speaker, panel chairwoman, panellists and attendees for making it such a fascinating and positive event. A special thank you also to our partner, Microsoft, for kindly hosting the event at their offices – thereby ensuring that all money raised from the event goes directly to our programmes.
Thanks to the support of the members of our Womens' Network, we are able to ensure that half of the one million children that we reach through our programmes on a weekly basis are girls. The girls that take part in our programmes are seeing their life chances improved as we support them to stay in education, safeguard their health, develop their leadership skills, and teach them to speak up for themselves and gain self-confidence.
Some of them may go on to be the next leaders in STEM. As Dr Stofan said, "Who knows who the next Einstein may be?"