YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Lakeland High School freshman Jothi Ramaswamy recently created ThinkSTEAM, a non-profit organization that offers free technology workshops for girls and seeks to integrate arts with traditional STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math).
Ramaswamy said she was inspired to create ThinkSTEAM after a dinner conversation with her brother Akshay, who was the Lakeland High School Class of 2015 valedictorian. Akshay told his sister that in his computer science class, there were 33 boys and no girls.
“This fact shocked me a lot, so later on, I went online and Googled about women in STEM,” Ramaswamy said
What she found was that although many fourth grade girls are interested in science, only a small percent major in computer science after high school.
“I really wanted to do something about this, so over the past summer, I went in as an observer for two middle school camps,” Ramaswamy said.
One of the camps Ramaswamy observed was Girls Inc.’s SmarTech camp and IBM’s Girls Go TechKnow camp, which was a four-day technical camp.
“At IBM, they talked about a new concept called STEAM, which combined STEM with the arts,” Ramaswamy said. “I was fascinated by this concept and realized that girls are very creative and artistic, so the best way to bridge the gender gap in STEM was to connect girls to STEM through the arts. I wanted girls to start thinking STEAM and the idea for ThinkSTEAM was born.”
Ramaswamy said merging STEM and arts to enhance problem-solving skills can best be described by Jay Young, a researcher from the University of Houston College of Education, who said: “When an artist is painting, he is trying to solve a problem—how to express what is being felt. He experiments with colors, technique and images the same way a scientist or engineer experiments with energy and signals.”
“Creativity and problem-solving skills are vital in math and science,” Ramaswamy said. “Adding the arts to STEM not only increases problem-solving skills, but also helps people understand math and science more.”
In order to put all of her thoughts in one area, Ramaswamy created thinksteam4girls.org, a website where people can find out about upcoming events, read blog posts from Ramaswamy, read interviews with young scientists, donate to the non-profit and much more. Ramaswamy said she created and designed the website, which is hosted on WordPress, over the summer.
“The first version of this website was good, but not great,” Ramaswamy said. “When I learned about more of WordPress’s widgets and plug-ins, I created the current version of ThinkSTEAM’s website. It took me over an entire month for me to create this website, but in the end, I am really happy with the way it turned out.”
Recently, Ramaswamy lead a workshop at the Mahopac Library. The workshop, called “Make Your Own Electronic Wearable Accessory,” was held for middle school girls in collaboration with IBM research scientists and Society of Women Engineers (SWE). ThinkSTEAM is still in its infancy, though Ramaswamy is encouraged by the support her non-profit has garnered early on.
“I do consider all of the girls who are attending ThinkSTEAM workshops, girls who are writing in the ThinkSTEAM Blog, and the girls who have been interviewed to be all a part of ThinkSTEAM,” Ramaswamy said. “So around 25 to 30 girls have been involved through various activities.”
Statistics show that a small percentage of girls are STEM majors in college, which Ramaswamy wants to see increase.
“I hope that ThinkSTEAM will teach girls about the wonders of STEM and STEAM,” Ramaswamy said. “When girls come out of ThinkSTEAM’s workshops, I hope that they are passionate about STEM and will bring their new knowledge into high school and college and pursue STEM careers.”
Ramaswamy said she is unsure of what she wants to do for a career, but said she would like to major in biology and computer science.