Tampons for Innovation and STEM Underwater Dreams

Last night, we sat at the Smithsonian Institute for the kick-off dinner of The STEM Innovation gathering. Our table had a vibrant and humorous conversation over wine and lavender infused lemonade about OB Tampons as a proven engineering solution. No, it's not what you think and before you dismiss this blog all together as inappropriate for press, it was actually a very poignant discussion that flowed well through dessert about engaging youth and our girls in STEM...

I shared with the table that my 11-year-old daughter seemed to be a bit disengaged when she started middle school in both math and science.

Being in the STEM field I am pretty aware that 71 percent of the jobs will require some STEM skills and IT jobs pay more, I am also well aware that girls and women disengage from STEM careers for a multitude of reasons including hostile work environments, isolation, lack of role models and more. I have written a lot about these topics in earlier blogs and really want to mentor my daughter effectively and early about her career options. Cindy Moss from Discovery Education chimed in and told me to buy her a Raspberry Pi so she can build Apps and use Code.org's training as one great suggestion I plugged into my iPhone notes.

But I already know that hope is not lost. See one day I came home a few months ago and my daughter had filled the living room with cereal boxes, shipping boxes, Bounty paper towl roles and was animatedly putting together a mini-city for her Zuzu pets (little hamster-like toys that you wind up and they scurry along the floor). It was an engineering feat!... and knowing what I know about the Maker movement and its role in America's competitiveness (we need to make, innovate, not just consume), I know I needed to encourage my daughter and not ask her to clean up this big project before her wonderful but obsessively clean (OCD) Daddy got home for work.

She showed me the various rooms including a lever to a private chamber and mini-framed artwork. But then I saw an OB tampon dangling by tape off a wall and had an immediate impulse to grab it and throw it in the trash. I restrained myself and took a deep breath.

"So what's that?" I asked her hiding my embarrassment.

She looked at me like I was the most ignorant parent on the planet...

"That's the chandelier Mommy!"

"Of course it is, darling! I get it," I said giggling.

I learned in STEM and at dinner that tampons might be a theme here.

Kathryn Nash of Cognizant and a few of us had seen one of the best documentary movies of the year. Oscar worthy!

Underwater Dreams, a stunning STEM movie produced by the amazing Mary Mazzio of 50 Eggs productions about four undocumented Mexican immigrants from a low-income school in Arizona who entered an underwater robotics competition. Mary called me a few times about the movie, and I attended the DC sneak premiere in March.

Their robot they called "Stinky" was duct taped together and clunky but they showed up and competed against MIT, CalTech and more in a multi-part competition. The MIT team had some of the most sophisticated technology one could use, the team from Carl Hayden HS in Arizona had Home Depot and a deeply caring teacher/mentor working with them outside of school day.

When "Stinky" sprung a leak during the first day practice run, they were in a bind and could have dropped out of the competition. Well one of the boys must have sisters because he had a very inventive solution... yes, plugging the electronics box with OB tampons. It's a funny scene to see them going into CVS and fighting over who would make 'the purchase.'

Well it worked. They persevered. They competed. AND they came in.... first place against the best and brightest in the country.

Kathryn shared with the group that the movie is so much more than a a Robotics Competition and Tampons. It's a movie about immigration and love of country. It's a movie about defeating the odds. It's a movie about a school gaining pride and a leading a massive STEM legacy for future generations that followed (the movie takes place over 10 years).

So last night we all learned there are many uses for tampons, that boys needed them too, that we just have to be use our imagination and build. We also learn that our young people are much more creative than we are and that we as parents can help encourage their STEM passions and see their projects not as junk from the trash room but learning masterpieces and winning innovations.