Petit Family Foundation Supports Girls In STEM Conference

The Petit Family Foundation Donated to UConn's Young Women in STEM conference, Multiply Your Options at a press conference on January 21, 2016.  From Left are: Johanna Chapman-Petit, Petit Family Foundation Board Member; Barbara Petit, Bill Petit, Sr,, Petit Family Foundation Vice President; Kevin McLaughlin, UConn School of Engineering Diversity Program Director; Abby O’Brien, Director of Development for Health Sciences at  UConn Foundation; and Dr. Bill Petit, Jr. PFF President.

The Petit Family Foundation donated to UConn’s eighth-grade girls in STEM conference, called Multiply Your Options, at a press conference on January 21, 2016. From left are: Johanna Chapman-Petit, Petit Family Foundation Board Member; Barbara Petit; Bill Petit Sr., Petit Family Foundation Vice President; Kevin McLaughlin, UConn School of Engineering Diversity Program Director; Abby O’Brien, Director of Development for Health Sciences at UConn Foundation; Dr. Bill Petit Jr., Petit Family Foundation President; and Kylene Perras, Program Director of Strategic Initiatives at UConn Engineering.

The Petit Family Foundation – dedicated to promoting STEM careers for young women – is helping eighth-grade girls learn from role models – top female UConn Engineering students and practicing engineers.

Its $11,000 gift brings together girls with an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (the STEM fields) with women who can help them accomplish their goals. In regular one-day conferences the eighth-graders work side-by-side with female undergraduate engineering students – who had the same questions just a few years ago – and accomplished female engineers.

The program, called “Multiply Your Options,” is held on UConn’s Storrs campus and brings together up to 250 girls from middle schools throughout the region. Students participate in hands on learning activities and thought exercises designed to expose them to a variety of (STEM) careers.

“The Petit Family Foundation’s mission of fostering the education of young people, especially girls and women in the sciences, is a perfect fit with the Multiply Your Options program,” said Dr. Bill Petit, the president of the Foundation.”

Multiply Your Options is part of a larger initiative at UConn Engineering to increase the involvement of women in STEM fields. The Engineering Alumni Office has sponsored four annual Women in Engineering events, and many of the undergraduates who participate in Multiply Your Options come from UConn’s Society of Women Engineers chapter. Many of the Society members who participate as undergraduates come back as young professionals. The conference also has a networking event for the undergraduate and professional women to connect.

Many girls shy away from science careers even though they have an aptitude. The reasons are as varied as fear of peer criticism, societal pressure to select careers considered more feminine, or just lack of visible role models. Multiply Your Options seeks to combat bias and encourage girls to fulfill their potential by exposing them to women who are enjoying success in STEM careers.

“Eighth grade is a big year in their lives. They’re going to high school, picking their classes, and deciding who to interact with. We want to encourage them to be ambitious. To take a chemistry or physics or calculus course, even if it’s an elective. Then they’ve multiplied their options,” said Kevin McLaughlin, the Director of the Engineering Diversity and Outreach Center who organizes Multiply Your Options.

McLaughlin said that it’s important to provide role models that are as close as possible to the eighth-grader’s age.

“We want to show them there are undergraduate and professional women in exciting STEM fields who are very successful. If you want them to envision something, there shouldn’t be a quantum leap in age,” he said.

The Foundation’s donation will fund two conferences, the first of which is April 4, 2016. Dr. Petit said that Multiply Your Options is a natural fit with the Foundation’s goal.

“The MYO program, in preparing young girls for STEM experiences and potentially careers, echoes the experiences of Hayley Elizabeth Petit. She was nurtured in the sciences in her middle school and early high school years which is why the Petit Family Foundation is ecstatic to support this initiative,” Dr. Petit said.

For information about supporting the Multiply Your Options program or the UConn Society of Women Engineers, please contact edpsw@engr.uconn.edu.

Published: January 29, 2016