2013 NCWIT Summit - Flashtalk, "How the Media Can Affect Students in STEM" by Allison Collier

August 14, 2013


Jeffrey Forbes:  Next up, we have Allison Collier who's going to be speaking to us about how the media can affect students in STEM. I have to point out, another Aspirations winner . Give her a round of applause. [applause]

Allison Collier:  My name is Allison Collier and I'm going to talk about how the media can affect students in STEM. On the next slide, I have a couple of statistics about how much time kids spend using the media. I want to say that when you spend that much time watching TV, it's going to affect you in some way. It's going to socialize you and let you know the state of a society, especially when you're that young and that impressionable. I know, for me, that was true. In middle school, because I noticed that there weren't a lot of black characters on TV that I identified with, especially black girls. I didn't want to be like the ones who were on TV. I felt really isolated by the media and it didn't help that I went to a predominantly white school.

Math and science, I was not very good at it and I was very introverted. It was really hard for me to explain what my problems were to my teachers. Since I didn't see many black characters on TV saying that they like math, I thought maybe math was just not supposed to be my thing.

I spent a lot of time neglecting my grades and a lot of time on YouTube, watching and making videos. But I just, kind of let school slide by me in middle school..

I talked to my parents a little bit, actually. These are a few of the shows that I watched in middle school. There's a noticeable lack of diversity in the cast. The characters that were black were usually portrayed stereotypically, and I didn't enjoy that when I was in middle school. I really only identified with four of the characters. I really like their gadgetry, but I didn't like the fact that they were all guys and I definitely didn't want to dress like them.


Allison:  I felt isolated in that sense, too. In eighth grade, I talked to my parents about going to a public high school for high school. I was really excited about that. Then I was like, "Wait a minute. Grades count in high school. I should work on those." I decided, "What if I got all As for the year, or for one quarter?" I made that goal and I actually did make all As for the whole year. I was very happy about that and I felt confident about going to high school. I thought, "Maybe school is my thing and maybe I can be good at math and science, after all." In high school, I kept my grades up and I joined a lot of clubs, and even took a couple of programming classes toward the end there.

I stopped watching TV for the most part. I watched a few shows, but I kind of was more focused on leading by example. I went to an engineering camp at Virginia Tech, C‑Tech2, over the summer. They introduced me to the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. I applied the week it was due, because I wasn't very confident that I would get it, but I did.

Ever since then, I've done so many things and met so many people that I would never have the opportunity to meet without NCWIT. I felt really confident. I didn't have to look at the stereotypes to feel the way I did. I also received an internship at the Entertainment Industries Council through NCWIT. They have this great program called SET Awards. They celebrate shows that actually do get STEM portrayals right.

I had a lot of time to think about how the media can help get kids interested in STEM and shows kids that it is possible to be good at it. I came up with four suggestions, mainly for this presentation.

My first one is to make at least one main character minority because kids do compare themselves to what they see on TV. If they don't see anyone like them, especially in STEM roles, then they don't think that they do it. I think that's very important to have.

Number two, make characters in STEM dress better, especially girls.


Allison:  I feel like a lot of girls are deterred from STEM because they don't want to dress like the people. People in STEM, I know the NCWIT girls dress fabulously, so it's not true. Third, the quirks should not be distracting from the character's likability. Like Urkle here, they give too many STEM characters too many quirks. He had five quirks. He dressed like that and he destroyed everything he touched. That probably detracted people.

My fourth one is to make people in environments where it's realistic. We know to show kids actually working on STEM projects and not just being instantly smart at programming. It takes time to get used to that subject.

I really want to reiterate that accurate depictions are really important, because kids internalize what they see on TV. It really shapes their perceptions about what they can do and what their role in society is. We need to make sure that we actually depict people studying and being smart at STEM, especially a normal and even a cool thing in school on TV, and to show kids working on STEM projects.

Over time, I do think that it will change how students view STEM.



Transcription by CastingWords