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Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Program aims to empower the next generation of girls in tech

By MIKE COTE
September 22. 2018 6:13PM

Medical student Anna Zhang works on an experiment, part of an event at the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute at the Millyard in Manchester in 2017. The New Hampshire High Tech Council is looking for volunteer mentors for TechWomen Ambassadors Week, a November program that matches eighth- and ninth-grade girls with women in the STEM fields. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)



WANTED: As many as 150 women whose careers are rooted in science, technology, engineering and math. Your assignment: Share your knowledge with the next generation of girls.

TechWomen/Tech Girls, an initiative of the New Hampshire High Tech Council, will be celebrating the week of Nov. 12 as TechWomen Ambassadors Week.

Now in its fourth year, the program matches eighth- and ninth-grade girls with women employed in the STEM fields. This year, the two-hour sessions will be held in Nashua, Belmont, Tilton, Portsmouth, Lebanon, Manchester, Derry and Bedford at more than a dozen locations and representing 25 schools.

"The first year we reached a few hundred young women, and this year we're aiming at over a thousand," said Margaret Donnelly, one of the program's organizers. "In order to do that, obviously, we need more volunteers to be the mentors. All it entails is someone going in and sharing their experiences and their career."

Since its inception, the program has reached over 1,600 young girls and recruited over 250 professionals and over 450 student volunteers.

"We want to give the young women an idea of what they can be and what it took to get there," said Donnelly, a semi-retired serial entrepreneur who spends much of her time engaged in community work. "For instance, even though I'm in tech, I'm in marketing so it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be an engineer in order to participate."

Some volunteer mentors simply share their career experiences, including the challenge of maintaining a work-life balance. Others offer hands-on activities, such as the engineer who taught the girls to create sturdy structures using popsicle sticks and marshmallows.

Donnelly introduces the students to entrepreneurship, having them create an idea for an app that draws on their hobbies and activities.

"It's really eye-opening to see them go from 'I can't think of an app' - and this is within a 20-minute timespan - to actually drawing something that's quite compelling," she said.

The goal is to make the girls aware of the possibilities.

"It's a gamut of how you can participate, but what's really clear is that it's great to showcase role models to these young women who are trying to think about careers and their future as to what they can be," Donnelly said. "That's really what this ambassadors program is all about."

This year, the girls may go home with a little bit of swag.

"It's the first year that we're seeking out sponsors," says volunteer Sara Bee, a financial adviser at Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith in Manchester. "We'd like to give the girls some kind of token of participation. We're hoping to find one or two more sponsors and get them a cool pop socket for their phone or something they will hopefully use regularly that has the High Tech Council's logo on it."

Sponsors on board so far include Merrill Lynch, Fidelity Investments, Roedel Companies, Plymouth General Dentistry and Sector Partners Initiative, a new statewide effort to help businesses in targeted industries - construction, health care, hospitality, manufacturing and technology - address workforce needs.

Bee, who returned to her native New Hampshire about a year and a half ago after living in Colorado and Tennessee, hopes the effort will encourage young women to seek careers in the Granite State.

"It's cool to give companies like Merrill Lynch and other sponsors the opportunity to talk about the opportunities right here in New Hampshire so the girls can see what women in STEM careers are doing here," Bee said.

Each session will begin with a 30-minute talk where students will hear from professionals in STEM fields. Afterward, students will participate in roundtable discussions. The TechWomen Ambassadors committee is seeking volunteers in STEM, bio/medical and advanced manufacturing to serve as mentors and workshop leaders.

Carol Miller, co-chairman of TechWomen Ambassador committee, is director of broadband technology for the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs - the kind of job some girls might not think is within their grasp.

"We are looking for women who are passionate about STEM and want to inspire girls to explore options they may not have considered before or were too intimidated to voice their opinions about," Miller said in a statement. "We want today's professionals to show the professionals of tomorrow that careers in STEM are available, attainable, fun and rewarding."

They also pay more: Women in STEM jobs earn 33 percent more than women in non-STEM jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Visit nhhtc.org/nhhtc-events/techwomentechgirls/ for details on TechWomen Ambassadors Week. For information about volunteering, contact Melissa Jurkoic at melissa.jurkoic@amadeus.com.

Contact Business Editor Mike Cote at 206-7724 or mcote@unionleader.com.


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