Local author has unique way to get young girls interested in STEM classes

NEWBURYPORT, Mass. — Keeping girls interested in STEM related classes as they get older has proven to be a challenge, but it’s a must if they’re going to be able to participate in our technology driven economy.

One way to do that might be thru the power of play.

Newburyport author Elizabeth Lorayne recently published her latest book, Historical Heroines. It chronicles the achievements of 31 women who bucked the system and pursued science more than 100 years ago.

It’s also a coloring book.

“I really wanted to create something for my five-year-old daughter and her friends,” Lorayne said. "What’s nice about having these biographies in a coloring book is it’s a lot more approachable.”

Female empowerment has been a theme of Lorayne’s other books.  This time she wanted to shine a light in a place where women have been under represented.

“I think that in reading these bios, and coloring the fantastic illustrations, they can, hopefully relate to some of these women,” said Lorayne.

Another new toy highlights the achievements of women in space.

Lego just released a set featuring four of NASA’s female astronauts.

“I think it’s really right that ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be’, is a feeling that girls get in STEM, so it’s important to have role models, like Sally Ride,” Dr. Laurie Leshin, the first female president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said.

Leshin said finding role models early in life is invaluable, and that incorporating them with play is a powerful combination.

“Oh, I think play it’s really important because frankly discovery, exploration, is fun, fundamentally," she said."Even when you’re a scientist, it’s fun. So, keeping kids engaged in discovery through play is one of the best things we can do for them."

But even in 2017, science can feel lonely for a woman.

“I took AP physics senior year and I was one of two girls in the class, so you could definitely say it see that it was very male dominant," Erinn Jabor, a freshman studying chemical engineering, said.

Expanding the number, and diversity, of scientists is imperative to the success of our rapidly evolving economy, according to Leshin.

“Hard problems require all kinds of brains to solve them," Leshin said.

Jabor thinks seeing some reminders of women who paved the way for her the next generation of scientists could be helpful.

“I think it is really important just because then they can see themselves as being a women in STEM and they can look up to them and follow their actions," Jabor said.

WPI’s concerted effort to attract more women is working.  This year’s incoming class is 43 percent female.

That’s up from 34 percent the year before.