Character STEMs from Play: Why Luciana MattersLearning
For more than 30 years, American Girl has believed in a simple truth: Every girl has the power to change the world. Part of that power derives from learning that character counts, that enduring values—like authenticity, fairness, respect, and perseverance—provide a solid foundation for facing new challenges and solving problems in an always-changing world. And like the characters who came before her, 2018 Girl of the Year™ Luciana Vega™ shows what it can mean to be a girl of strong character in her time, in this particular historical moment that we all share, where creative thinking, collaboration, and STEM literacy provide opportunities for meaningful growth.
ENCOURAGING GIRLS IN STEM
In a talk she gave at American Girl headquarters last fall, past Chief Scientist of NASA and member of Luciana’s advisory board Dr. Ellen Stofan opened with a question of central importance to our, and Luciana's, era: girls have many talents and aspirations, in many different areas, “so why is it so important to encourage girls in STEM?” The answer, of course, is as multifaceted as the problem of underrepresentation in STEM is complex. Broadly considered, Dr. Stofan observed:
“We are living in a society that is increasingly technology-focused [. . .], a society that is facing complex challenges. If we have only half the population—or slightly less than half the population—trying to figure out how to navigate this increasingly complex world we live in, we’re not going to do as well. We are not going to do as well if we’re not tapping into the talent of everybody.”
Encouraging girls in STEM matters in more immediate ways, too, and Luciana brings visibility, engaging stories and experiences, encouragement, and valuable lessons to girls at a time in their lives when they are learning that they hold within themselves infinite potential, no matter where their interests and talents lead them.
As education historian Dr. Kim Tolley notes, a “complex web of social and cultural influences have facilitated and hindered the participation of girls in science” throughout the history of science education in the United States. And, time and again, research in child development and learning has shown that girls need positive role models: real-life individuals as well as fictional characters whose narratives help girls think about their own character, their own aspirations, and the kind of person they want to be. Having strong female role models benefits boys, as well: by breaking notions of ability, achievement, and areas of interest free from stereotypes, children can begin to imagine a wider range of possibilities for themselves. Working to include underrepresented populations in STEM, where girls who might see something of themselves in Luciana have been largely excluded, opens new possibilities for children to experience, understand, and participate in their world.
THE POWER OF PLAY
A 2013 National Science Foundation-funded study examined the impact of girls’ informal STEM experiences, not just on their future education and careers, but also on the qualities that contribute to a person’s sense of self—their interests, hobbies, confidence, knowledge, and personal agency. More than half of the study’s participants reported that informal STEM opportunities positively influenced their personal development and identity. Reading, building, and exploration all nurture imaginative play, and Luciana’s world is rich with opportunities for your girl to immerse herself in informal STEM play, to learn awe-inspiring details about the universe and her potential in it, and to go on fun, indelible journeys that teach her more about herself and deepen her understanding of the diverse communities and people she’ll come to know.
LEARNING TO BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO FAIL
At their core, Luciana’s stories are as much about STEM as they are about character: the ever-emerging awareness that what we do and what we say to one another matters. In pursuing her goals, Luciana must contend with challenges, obstacles, and even failure—which ultimately highlight the qualities that make a reliable team player, a caring friend, a thoughtful leader, and a resilient change-maker. Her stories not only reassure girls that it is okay to fail; they communicate a concept central to STEM, that failure is an opportunity for learning and improving. But failure can hurt—it can discourage girls from asking questions or trying new approaches. It can discourage girls from pursuing their interest in STEM. Luciana helps girls think about how they might face setbacks, and how they might rally to try again. Whether their interest is in STEM or history or athletics or fine arts or any combination thereof, learning that it is okay to take risks and to persist is a quality that will serve your girl well, no matter her aspirations.
This is Luciana’s time. This is your girl's time. Technology continues to revolutionize what we do and what we know, and science, technology, engineering, and math need innovators of strong character and creativity who are able to ask, “What’s next?”