In late December 2022, the U.S. Embassy in Chile, the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), and its international arm ONR Global launched a project to encourage students, particularly girls and gender non-conforming students, to develop skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and the Arts (STEAM). The initiative will be implemented through the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso (PUCV) and the Municipal Corporation for Social Development of Villa Alemana, a city in central Chile.
“Diversity is very important to the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, not necessarily because diversity is an end in itself, but because through it you bring people with different perspectives and experiences to the table, which allows you to solve scientific problems in a better way,” Christopher Konek, science director at the ONR Global Santiago office, told Diálogo on January 12. “If you want to have diverse teams in senior or leadership positions you have to start from high schools.”
The project, Women in STEM/STEAM, is an initiative that will be implemented for the first time in Latin America, PUCV said in a statement. U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Lorin Selby, chief of Naval Research, and Richard H. Glenn, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Chile, led the U.S. delegation, while Luz Pascuala Vidal, Chile’s undersecretary for Women and Gender Equity, and PUVC authorities represented Chile.
The project, which will involve a $1.2-million investment that will be donated by the U.S. Embassy, will benefit three schools in Villa Alemana: the Liceo Tecnológico de Villa Alemana, the Escuela Latina Inés Gallardo Orellana, and the Escuela Diego Portales, PUCV indicated in its statement.
“I believe that it is extremely important for our children to get excited about science and technology, and hopefully we can keep them motivated to pursue these types of careers,” Rear Adm. Selby said at the launch of Women in STEM/STEAM, Chilean news site Red Noticias reported. “I think we can find ways to give them the tools, keep them interested in those areas of study, and try to find ways to guide them and put them in positions where one day they will hopefully change the world for the better.”
The investment is set to be made progressively over three years and will be earmarked for the creation of a digital fabrication laboratory to support STEM/STEAM education; the creation of a community research center that will bring together students from the three establishments benefiting from the program; and will also promote teacher training for the development of a STEM/STEAM approach, all from a gender perspective. In addition, the project is set to provide pedagogical and psychosocial support for children and students with socially marginalized identities, PUCV said.
“This scholarship seeks to benefit thousands of students over a period of around five years, to make them productive members of the workforce of the future,” Konek told Diálogo. “This program is not just about providing tools for students and telling them, ‘here you are,’ but about training professors and instructors at Valparaiso University, to make good use of these tools, with a ‘train the trainers’ approach, as well as including an intensive feedback process with the students.”
“Strategically Chile is very well located, it has a very long coastline with access to the Pacific Ocean, and that’s why it’s so important for ONR,” Sonia Wolff, associate science director at ONR Global Santiago office, told Diálogo. “The country has first-class scientists and researchers, with studies that can cover a lot and drive much progress as well, even with low budgets.”