“Start a ripple, change the world. I get it. Are we done?”
Not yet. When I was a Girl Scout, I remember being taught to be kind, curious, resourceful and prepared. I even earned my Bronze Award! Much like Miss America, I’ve had people ask me if Girl Scouting is still relevant in today’s day and age… well, you’re in for a treat because both are now two of the largest proponents for women to enter STEM fields in our nation!
In the past few months, I’ve been asked to speak to more than 1,000 Girl Scouts in Massachusetts at two STEM conferences to get girls excited about diverse STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The typical jobs that came to the minds of scouts were medical doctors, astronauts, lab scientists and mathematicians. The idea that a girl (me) could be on the path to become a dentist was shocking to some of the attendees, some of whom did not have any college graduates in their families.
These two conferences were exciting opportunities to give back and talk about keeping an open mind to STEM fields. I answered many questions: Do you have to be “nerdy” (anyone have a definition on this?) to go into STEM? No. Do you have to be a boy? No. Do you have to get a boring job? No. Do you have to work in a lab? No. None of these descriptions are mandatory for anyone entering a STEM field. What made you want to become a dentist? My answer to that question is unique to me, just like the answer a person might give for why they became an astronaut, physician, teacher, etc.
Sometimes, just being present to answer questions about career paths and interests is enough to get young people going! It isn’t the specific answers that are helpful, it’s showing that passion can lead to an invigorating career that can benefit society.
Although I’m the reigning Miss Massachusetts until the evening of June 28, 2015, I haven’t been a Girl Scout since high school. Why should I care about either of these organizations, as they’ll both soon be in my past? They both afford young women the opportunity to give back and learn!
In the weeks leading up to Miss America, I was flown to our nation’s capital. It was my second trip to D.C. (my first was for last year’s National Dental Student Lobby Day). While in Washington, I was announced as one of 10 STEM Scholarship Finalists through the Miss America Organization, attended a STEM and higher education meeting at the Department of Education, and a 90 minute meeting with the First Lady’s staff on higher education in the White House itself. It was all so exciting. This trip was a whirlwind and only 14 days later, I was announced as one of five recipients of a $5,000 STEM scholarship on ABC national television during the 2015 Miss America telecast. Two days later, I was asked to fly back to the White House to take part in a STEM conference. Since they wanted me to miss school and pay for it out of pocket, I couldn’t attend due to classes. Ultimately, they switched the format to a webinar and I snuck out for a five minute “bathroom break” in my white coat (since class was in the hospital that day) to say a few words to the webcast viewers before rushing back to class.
The power of these opportunities to speak and appear, even in media photographs, for Girl Scouts and Miss America have been worth far more than their face value. Young people look up to older students and wonder how they will achieve their dreams. By leading by example and showing that someone like you or I can become a dentist, coming from diverse backgrounds, having varying hobbies, or even competing for Miss America, it inspires young people because they see similarities between us. Maybe a brunette who loves to play the piano will consider dentistry as a career because I remind her of an older version of herself. Maybe a child who dreams of traveling to Zambia and saw on ABC that I’d studied abroad there will be inspired to travel the world and conduct biology research like I did. It’s impossible to know the lives that can be touched and the people that can be inspired by our actions, nevertheless our words.
Why is it important to get young girls interested in math and science? It’s all about open doors, and open doors lead to passion, stability in a career, and self-sufficiency and fulfillment. I’m not arguing that every young woman needs to pursue a career in one of these fields, but they need to at least be on her radar! While I don’t encourage every person to choose dentistry or a STEM career, I do hope that all young people will keep an open mind and be sure to cross these options of their list before proceeding to their passion in life.
Lead by example, make yourself available, and you might be surprised how much of an impact you may have on someone.
~ Lauren Kuhn, Harvard ’17, District 1 Chair on Advocacy