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The Clayman Institute takes aim at the STEM pipeline with its new “Seeds of Change” program

Dec 5 2017

This year, the Clayman Institute has launched a new initiative to address the striking underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM. Clayman Institute sociologist and founding director of this initiative Sara Jordan-Bloch named it “Seeds of Change” to reflect the critical imperative of better understanding and addressing gender biases early in the STEM pipeline.

The program trains and mentors high school and university students in ways similar to the Institute’s other Voice and Influence initiatives: through education and feminist collaboration, Seeds of Change participants learn both how to see gender biases and how to create strategies to navigate the biases that deter their career aspirations. Seeds of Change teaches students how to build resilience against present and future encounters of gender-based roadblocks in order to guide them through critical career transitions, from high school graduation to the workforce.

Seeds of Change is distinct from other projects focusing on the pipeline, however, because it does not focus on STEM technical skills and education. Instead, the project provides an integrated curriculum of mentoring, training, and skills development in order to encourage girls’ STEM and leadership identities, as well as to address and resolve feelings of isolation through peer support. Made possible by the generous support of VMware, the initiative takes an interdisciplinary approach to STEM education. It infuses students’ technical training with leadership training by bringing together key components of feminist pedagogy, service-learning, and experiential education to create a transformational learning experience. This is achieved by employing three core strategies: research-based education, a train-the-trainer model, and cohort-based learning.

While a program for girls and young women, the Seeds of Change curriculum is grounded in academic research about how to effectively advance women’s leadership and increase women’s participation women's participation in spaces where they are traditionally underrepresented. The curriculum is brought to life in a series of animated videos that focus on core leadership topics such as persistence, negotiation, feedback, and purpose. The concepts and skills introduced in these videos are put into action with the use of discussion guides and exercises to promote critical thinking and skills development.

Seeds of Change undergraduate leaders participate in a year-long training course designed and taught by Clayman Institute researchers while at the same time leading groups—or circles—of high school students through the same curriculum. In their role as leaders, the undergraduates deepen their own knowledge and understanding of the core content, empowering their leadership in and beyond their role in Seeds of Change. For the high school students, learning from “near peers,” college-age students who are just a few years ahead of them, illuminates a path forward by providing relatable and attainable mentoring relationships.  

The cohort-based learning model is a critical mechanism for the students’ transformational learning experience. By hearing about and sharing experiences, the high school students gain insight into their own circumstances and experience diverse leadership models. This approach emphasizes the importance of connection, vulnerability, and encouragement in developing resilience—a critical quality for navigating barriers and challenges.  

The 2017-2018 pilot program has launched with seventeen Stanford undergraduate leaders, who co-lead circles of six to eight high school students that represent a diverse collection of STEM-focused groups in the Palo Alto area. The relationships forged with the high school partners—not only with the students but also with the adult stakeholders who are in their schools and organizations —elevate the experiences of girls and young women interested in pursuing STEM careers.

Under the leadership of Clayman Institute education researcher Chelsey Hauge, the initiative is being rigorously evaluated and iterated upon with the goal of advancing the Institute’s knowledge about gender inequality, implementing change to promote gender equality, and moving society towards a more equal world.

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.