The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Wellesley Intern Brings STEMKit to India

Shreeya post

My first summer in college, I wasn’t just lucky enough to go home, but I was lucky enough to go home and give back to my community. Through the Wellesley Career Education Grants Program, I received the Susan Rappaport Knafel ’52 Internship Fund. I used the fund to take the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Kit (STEMKit) to India.

Developed in 2015, under the guidance of Senior Research Scientist Wendy Robeson, Ed.D., at the Wellesley Centers for Women, STEMKit is an affordable lab-in-a-box that aims to take hands-on science (biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science) experimental learning to low-resourced schools and communities. Previously, STEMKit has been used in public schools in the rural outskirts of Accra, Ghana; Cairo, Egypt; a summer camp for Indigenous girls in Alaska; summer camps for 5,000 children in Nigeria; and with educational groups in Liberia.

Over two months in Hyderabad, a city in South India, I interacted with over 2,500 students in over 100 classrooms. They came from diverse backgrounds and spoke at least 10 different languages. I performed science experiments with students from 4th to 10th grade, tailored to their grade level, on topics ranging from pH to genetics and oscillatory motion to aerodynamics. Each student received their own set of materials to perform the experiments and also got to take the equipment home. At the same time, I also always made sure that every experiment had a back-up experiment in case it was not possible to perform or if we had extra time. In most cases the back-ups were helpful.

I started by reaching out to local schools that did not have proper science laboratories for their students. In fact, one of the schools I went to was the school I studied in. During the first week of the program, the students enjoyed the labs so much that we extended the program for two more weeks. Students would come back to me the next day and ask questions or tell me how they performed the experiments at their houses and show me their observations. Looking back, I wish I had this opportunity when I was in their school.

Another school I went to was a residential girls’ school run by the state government. Most of these students came from very ordinary backgrounds, and their parents might never have had access to education. Most of them had never even been to another state in India, much less had the opportunity to travel internationally. Telling them that I study at Wellesley and explaining to them the power of a Wellesley education was deeply empowering, and I wish that I had more time with them. I can only hope to go back and serve as a local role model and help uplift more lives. The questions the girls asked me about education, Wellesley, what they can do after school, and what kind of subjects they can study, as well as the conversations we had, will continue to inspire me every day.

What initially started out as a summer internship turned into something much more. I hope that the 40 minutes every student spent in my classroom will help them in one way or another, but the time I spent with all of them has taught me things I will never forget!

Shreeya Lakkapragada is a psychology and computer science major at Wellesley College graduating in 2026. Senior Research Scientist Wendy Wagner Robeson, Ed.D., worked with a group of Wellesley College students to develop STEMKit (formerly called SeedKit) in 2015.

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Helping Middle School Girls Create Their Own Digital Spaces

Sidrah Durrani, Connie Gu, and Teresa Xiao

Digital communication systems, such as social media platforms, are created for the masses but aren’t often designed for a large scope of their user base: adolescent girls from marginalized communities. The Youth, Media & Wellbeing (YMW) Research Lab, in collaboration with the Computer Science Department at Wellesley College, holds an annual summer workshop for adolescent girls to explore STEM learning spaces and become designers and creators of their own digital communication systems. (This year’s workshop ran July 11-15.)

As research interns from different educational backgrounds, we all contributed our unique expertise to last year’s summer digital wellbeing workshop. We were mentored by Dr. Linda Charmaraman, director of the YMW Research Lab, and Dr. Catherine Delcourt, assistant professor of computer science at Wellesley, to explore research on human-computer interaction (HCI), specifically on participatory design and positive social media use with middle school girls. At the end of an exciting and fast-paced summer, we published and presented our work—titled “Innovating Novel Online Social Spaces with Diverse Middle School Girls: Ideation and Collaboration in a Synchronous Virtual Design Workshop”—at CHI 2022, an international HCI conference.

The aim of this participatory design workshop was to engage middle school girls in social media innovation, digital wellbeing, positive social media use, STEM identity exploration, collaboration, and computational design. Conducted virtually over four days, students were divided into small groups of three or four, grouped by age, with an assigned facilitator.

The idea generation and collaboration sessions were very fun to be involved with, especially as we watched students envision unique positive spaces online. Their ideas included an application that uses a robot to monitor and filter out negative messages, a music-based application to spread kindness, and a simulation game to develop interests and explore career paths for teenagers. Students also showed a great interest in climate change activism, spreading positivity, finding friends and peers from their neighborhood, and building a large community of like-minded individuals. They often took initiative during this time to develop prototypes and sketches.

Overall, we noted how important it was to maintain a positive and uplifting environment for the students in the workshop, which through our experience, allowed everyone to feel more comfortable with one another and share personal anecdotes with the group. We observed individual trajectories of growth through the four-day workshop and were keen on exploring our findings regarding intentional collaboration and facilitation with underrepresented middle school girls.

As research interns, we gained a lot of insight and experience being involved in the workshop, from curriculum development to report writing to the conference presentation.

It was also an interesting experience for us, as researchers and facilitators, as we became the workshop participants’ peers and mentors during the process. Stepping out of the research mindset we had while preparing the curriculum for the workshop, we were doing virtual field work by interacting with the adolescents to understand their conception and opinions of social media and STEM. This process allowed us to get to know the participants personally and join their efforts to co-design a novel and positive social online space.

To discuss our experience with the workshop and the process of publishing our paper about it, we presented at the Tanner Conference at Wellesley College and the hybrid CHI 2022 conference, during which we presented our research to HCI experts.

We were so honored to be part of such a great team and are excited to see the impactful results of this workshop in the coming summers. As research interns, we gained a lot of insight and experience being involved in the workshop, from curriculum development to report writing to the conference presentation. We all continue to engage in the research and provide input on the upcoming summer workshop through the YMW Youth Advisory Board, which allows us to test-drive activities with past workshop participants and facilitators aged 12-23. This summer, Dr. Delcourt is working with Connie to develop a facilitator training based on last year’s experience and previous research. Being involved with this workshop has helped us explore personal interests, given us the opportunity for new experiences, and taught us the tools of the trade about the research process.

If it weren't for the cold email Sidrah sent to Dr. Charmaraman expressing interest in her lab or the internship applications Connie and Teresa submitted to be involved in the lab, we would have not had this opportunity. Lastly, we could not have had such a vibrant educational experience without Dr. Delcourt and Dr. Charmaraman’s continued support and mentorship, and we’re especially grateful to them for introducing us to HCI research from the perspective of social computing and developmental psychology. As aspiring researchers, we hope to continue working toward creating more inclusive spaces in technology for girls while also supporting their positive development and digital wellbeing.


Sidrah Durrani is a master’s student in developmental psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Connie Gu is a member of the Wellesley College Class of 2024 majoring in media arts and sciences.

Teresa Xiao is a Class of 2022 graduate of Wellesley College who majored in psychology.

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Celebrate Diversity Month-April 2015

The purpose of Celebrate Diversity Month is to recognize and celebrate the rich diversity of cultures around us. Although this is often a necessary first step toward increasing understanding and heightening awareness of the differences and similarities among us, not probing beyond these experiences can lead to a “tourist approach” to understanding difference, particularly when engagement with other cultures is limited to the more obvious areas (e.g., food, arts, celebrations, music, and historical contributions). This often results in those cultures remaining in the realm of “exotic other.” Why not take Celebrate Diversity Month to the next level? What if we work to gain a deeper understanding of the invisible riches and underlying motivations of culture?

My own journey beyond tourist-based experiences of culture began with the discovery of several models for deconstructing and understanding culture. One of these, the Iceberg Model of Culture, is a tool for elucidating the two layers of every culture: surface culture and deep culture. Picture an iceberg with its smallest visible part above the water (surface culture) and much larger, invisible part below (deep culture). Surface culture includes food, dress, literature, history, language, etc., while deep culture includes core values, concepts of personal space, world views, nonverbal communication, beliefs, tolerance for change, etc. Deep culture always influences surface culture. In fact, it can be challenging to make sense of the surface aspects of a culture without understanding the invisible, deep elements from which those aspects originate. We can be proactive by journeying beyond our tourist-based experiences of surface culture and delving into deeper aspects of other cultures.

My academic and teaching interests lie at the intersection of culture, computation, community, and cognition--I like to think about how technology can support learning in community and public settings. In my Digital Technologies and Learning Communities seminar, I challenge my students to push beyond their cultural tourist-based experiences to engage in deep culture learning of both their own and of others’ cultures, and to consider how deep culture impacts equity in learning. Throughout the semester, students practice designing learning technology interventions that are culturally responsive in deeper ways.

For a broader equity perspective on learning technologies, let’s consider how deep culture impacts learning technology policies, even before those technologies leave the factory. Cultural assumptions about learning--and learners--inform design decisions. Technology designers are often oblivious to how their cultural programming influences their ideas about appropriate characteristics of software functions, features, and interface metaphors. The deep cultures evident in those spaces where learning technology design decisions are being made usually forecast who will benefit most from that technology’s use. For example, gaming software companies (predominately white and male) have often been criticized for the gender and other biases embedded in their game design choices. This has fueled efforts to design gaming software that incorporates greater gender flexibility (and to increase gender diversity within the designer ranks). There is a more detailed discussion of this phenomenon in my chapter, “Diversity and Inclusion in the Learning Enterprise: Implications for Learning Technologies,” in the forthcoming Wiley Handbook of Learning Technology.

Celebrate Diversity Month is our opportunity to take steps toward a better understanding of other cultures. We can deepen that celebration by taking a few more steps toward understanding the invisible structures and practices that fuel our own and others’ cultures. Wellesley College is an amazing and privileged place. Our students are the future educators, policy makers, executives, entrepreneurs, etc. who will craft a better world. Their time with us is an opportunity to grow beyond the limitations of tourist-based diversity experiences and delve into the richness and complexities of deep culture. Let’s join them in that learning. If we are to offer our students more equitable and inclusive learning spaces, then we must examine--and when appropriate, address--the deep cultures within our institution, our disciplines, and ourselves. We must encourage the exploration of deep cultures as well as surface cultures. This is the pathway to appreciation of differences and similarities within our communities.

RChapinRobbin Chapman, Ph.D. is Associate Provost and Academic Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Lecturer, Education Department at Wellesley College.

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Enough with the Excuses—Corporate Boards Need Women

The controversy surrounding lack of women on Twitter’s board of directors as it is going public with an IPO, has rekindled interest in diversity on corporate boards. In research conducted at the Wellesley Centers for Women, my colleagues Vicki Kramer, Alison Konrad and I showed that having a critical mass of three or more women improves board governance. Catalyst (2007) and McKinsey (2012) subsequently reported that companies with diverse executive boards enjoyed significantly higher earnings and returns on equity. When there is a business case to be made for greater diversity on boards, the usual excuse is that there are too few qualified women, buttressed by the small number of female CEOs. But let’s look at the facts: not all male board members are CEOs. A board needs diversity in professional expertise as well as gender, race, and nationality. People making excuses for high tech companies’ lack of female board members point to the small numbers of women majoring in computer science. Again, not all male board members of high tech companies have technology backgrounds. In fact, most members of Twitter’s board members have undergraduate degrees from liberal arts colleges: one has a degree in English; another in Asian Studies. Couldn’t female experts in entrepreneurial management, intellectual property law, investment management contribute, for example, contribute positively within such a governance structure? It was smart of Twitter to include diversity of educational and work experiences on its board. Twitter (and all corporations) needs to stop making excuses and go for greater diversity, by including female, minority, and international members on its board.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she studies women's leadership and co-led the Critical Mass on Corporate Boards study.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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