An unconventional path has led Nebraska’s Jocelyn Bosley to being named a national leader in helping young women grow their passion for STEM fields.
Bosley, assistant director for education and outreach with the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, has been named one of 125 IF/THEN Ambassadors by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The inaugural cohort is tasked with serving as role models to inspire the next generation of women who will work in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
The selection is a natural fit for Bosley, who has, for more than a decade, used her unique mix of math, physics and history of science education to mentor students from elementary school to post-graduate levels.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to take what I’ve been doing and connect it with a much wider audience,” Bosley said. “It’s also an opportunity to get to know the other ambassadors and learn about what they’re doing. I hope to draw from their expertise to benefit my work here at Nebraska.”
Bridging STEM’s gender divide
While making up roughly half of the labor force in the United States, women are underrepresented within STEM careers. Recent data from the National Science Board reports that only 29% of the science and engineering workforce is female. And, reports from Girls Who Code show that just 24% of computer scientists were female in 2017 — a number that peaked at 37% in 1995 and is predicted to dip to 22% by 2027.
This scarcity of strong female role models within STEM careers can also fuel a negative trend that leads young girls to spurn related courses and occupations.
Bosley has been battling the trend locally, working as a math and science mentor for gifted middle school students within Lincoln Public Schools.
“While it’s not true for everyone, many young women find it easier to identify with someone of the same gender,” Bosley said. “A STEM role model is especially important for middle school students because it’s a time when we don’t like to stand out or take risks. And, it’s a time when young women often start to turn away from math and science fields.”
In elementary school, nearly 66% of all students — regardless of gender — report an interest in science. However, that total drops in middle school and, by high school graduation, only 15% of young women are likely to pursue a major or career within STEM areas.
Through her experiences, Bosley has defined the middle school years as a “sweet spot” for a STEM intervention.
“It’s a time when girls sometimes begin to lose confidence and interest in STEM fields,” Bosley said. “Yet it’s also a really exciting time when students have developed important cognitive skills and are still flexible enough to make connections across disciplines.” For Bosley, an interdisciplinary approach to science education is key to engaging more young students with STEM fields, and might be especially beneficial for girls who are beginning to doubt their aptitude for math and science.
“I want students of all genders to realize that science is so much bigger than they think it is,” Bosley said. “There are so many skills — including language comprehension, communication and creative abilities — that tend to be undervalued in STEM education but are tremendous assets in learning and succeeding at math and science.”
To celebrate the International Day of the Girl, Bosley and several other IF/THEN Ambassadors offered online sessions via the digital platform Nepris, which connects classrooms with industry professionals. Bosley’s session emphasized creativity as the heart of scientific discovery, showing students how art, music, literature, drama, and other creative endeavors can help them to develop intellectual skills that are important for success in STEM fields.
“Jocelyn’s work in both formal and informal science education to broaden participating in STEM disciplines has made a critical impact on the graduate and undergraduate students, and all other program participants of Nebraska MRSEC,” said Rebecca Lai, associate professor chemistry and education/outreach director for the MRSEC program. “We’re proud of her impressive work and especially proud that she has received this prestigious recognition as an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador.”
Making an impact
A letter from a former mentee to the AAAS IF/THEN coordinators is proof that Bosley’s mentorship is making a difference.
Authored by McKenna Bancroft, the narrative talks about how she struggled in class, acting out negatively — not because she failed to grasp concepts, but rather due to boredom at the slow pace of instruction.
“I only had one other math instructor who was a woman in my entire life, so I didn’t have a lot of role models to look up to,” Bancroft wrote. “But finding Jocelyn was the best possible thing that could have happened to me.”
Bosley pushed Bancroft and other girls participating in the program, creating fun activities that taught complex mathematical theories and concepts.
“(Her) astounding creativity and passion drives young students, like me, to strive for more math challenges at a young age,” Bancroft wrote. “She cultivated an environment in which I was excited to solve for X and eventually Y, and so many more variables.”
Bancroft is now in the final stages of earning her undergraduate degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University. She has studied in Europe and recently worked for the Corporation for National and Community Service in Washington, D.C.
Becoming an ambassador
In October, the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors gathered for a summit in Dallas, Texas. The event featured sessions on how to advance outreach work to new levels and coaching on science communication and STEM storytelling. It was also an opportunity to gather photos of the ambassadors and details about their careers. The content is being compiled into an online collection that can be accessed to showcase women who are STEM role models and to develop inspirational content that will reach young girls nationwide.
Bosley’s information features her work with area youth coupled with outreach on campus — which includes service as organizer of the annual Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physical Sciences; co-founder and host of the annual Science Slam; curator of the Funsize Physics website; and co-host of the Science! with Friends podcast.
“I’m able draw upon my undergraduate training in math and science, my graduate training in the history of science, and my varied professional experiences to provide insight into the tremendous range of opportunities available within STEM fields,” Bosley said. “It’s been an unconventional career path, but it has helped me carve out a productive niche.”
She believes the IF/THEN opportunity will allow her to expand that niche, broadening her expertise on using digital platforms to reach diverse audiences.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous opportunities to encourage young women to pursue STEM careers, and I’m excited to do so on a larger scale through the IF/THEN Ambassador program,” Bosley said. “I’m looking forward to helping more young girls discover the wonder and beauty of science at a critical time in their lives.”