How Anne-Marie Imafidon gets girls to view themselves as STEM leaders

"Our young people have grown up seeing problems live and in very high definition, so they care a lot about a lot of different problems," FETC keynote speaker says.

Everything is free, it’s fun and there’s always food—that’s math prodigy Anne-Marie Imafidon’s formula for guiding students to become the STEM innovators of the future. It’s also the formula for Stemettes, the U.K.-based nonprofit Imafidon founded to engage girls and connect them to future STEAM careers.

That starts with showing girls the diversity across industry, academia, and entrepreneurship, and the roles, ages, and backgrounds of the people who are advancing technology and STEM, says Imafidon, who delivered Wednesday’s STEM keynote at the 2023 Future of Education Technology® Conference in New Orleans.

“We working with young people under this premise of everything being free, everything being fun and there always being food to get them to see themselves as innovators, to get them to understand the value they bring,” said Imafidon, whose latest book is called She’s In Ctrl: How Women Can Take Back Tech. “We’re also giving safe spaces to explore that they might not get at school or at home or in the messages they get from the media.”

The educators cultivating the innovators of the future should be driven by three guiding principles: creativity, providing those safe spaces to explore, and altruism. Younger students can often be turned off by STEM if the instruction is too rigid in its focus on the right and wrong answers. “It’s about giving folks an opportunity to explore on their own terms,” she explains. “There’s a lot you can create, a lot of problems you can solve, and things like this open up your options rather than closing them down.”

Altruism in STEM means prioritizing solving problems rather than the “faster, bigger, stronger” mindset that dominates the tech industry. “Our young people have grown up seeing problems live and in very high definition so they care a lot about a lot of different problems,” she says. “Creating leaders of the future is about creating folks who solve problems compared to what the current tech industry sees as being of the utmost importance.”

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She also encourages administrators and educators to maintain a growth mindset and commit to knowing more next month than they knew last month, and be willing to step outside their comfort zones consistently. They should also view their districts, schools and classrooms as startups that are constantly experimenting, learning from their mistakes and making improvements.

“The point of an experiment is you don’t know what happens next,” she says. “You have to be willing to have your hypothesis proved wrong.”

Finally, K12 leaders must ensure they are always including people with a range of backgrounds and experiences in decision-making and other key roles. To illustrate this point, Imafidon shared a photo of a display she found at a girls’ school in London that depicted the great scientists of the past. All of the images were of dead white men—with beards. “As we cultivate the leaders of the future, we have to make sure we’re doing so in an environment where they fully understand the leaders of the past.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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