Women's Innovation Center

Alexandrians Are Innovatively Changing STEM Education

Enthusiastic We Can Do It girls from Washington School for Girls. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

By Jane Plitt, Founder & Chair, NCWI

Alexandria, VA – If it takes a village, count on Alexandrians. Two local Alexandria leaders are cooperating to make STEM programs more effective for girls. Partnering with Rosie Riveters, the National Center of Women’s Innovations launched an innovative program encouraging girls into STEM work.

We combined a hands-on STEM learning process with an inspiring narrative about the associated woman innovator. Just like the Rosie the Riveters of World War II, 3rd-5th graders at the Washington School for Girls now believe “We Can Do It” after an afternoon working through the Dr. Gladys West GPS Challenge, led by Brittany Greer, Executive Director of RR, and myself along with Lucelle O’Flaherty, NCWI Board Secretary, and NCWI volunteers Charleen Smith Riedel (leading the NCWI women innovator data file) and Lynn Kehoe (coordinating NCWI’s special June event for major donors).

Dr. Beth Reaves, Jane Plitt, and Brittany Greer, with WSG girls. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Based on the results from a Girl Scout STEM-funded study, over 60% of these girls might pursue STEM by combining narrative and hands-on STEM-related work. Today, only 28% of women are in STEM, and only 2% are women of color. Imagine the world challenges this expanded supply of brainpower will solve. “We, indeed, Can Do It.”

Given that tens of thousands of under-recognized women innovators exist, we have many programs to offer. Encourage your children’s school or scouting program to incorporate our exciting STEM programs in their curriculum or badge achievement. Email [email protected].

The promised big announcement about the Alexandria location of the Dr. Gladys West interactive exhibit was postponed until June 18, but for a good reason. There is likely more to announce soon. We promise June 18 will be the date.

Meanwhile, kudos to Virginia Tech University and President Timothy Sands for awarding Dr. Gladys West the Distinguished Achievement Award at its recent commencement ceremonies. President Sands traveled to Dr. West’s home to personally place the medal around her neck. (West received her doctorate from Virginia Tech at age 74!). Since Dr. West was the showcase innovator at our October Inaugural Gala, we are particularly proud of her and grateful to the University for its recognition of her work enabling GPS! Dr. West retired in 1998.

Meet Our New Treasurer

NCWI runs on the talents, passion, and dedication of our volunteers. At a recent local gathering, Lucelle O’Flaherty and I thanked our retiring treasurer, Alexandrian Faduma Hussein, and welcomed Ilana Esterrich as our new treasurer.

Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands presenting Dr. Gladys West with the Distinguished Achievement Award. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech)

Faduma saw us through the thrilling but demanding Inaugural Gala, including our transition from being a catalyst fund at ACT for Alexandria to becoming our own 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit charity. A new job has Faduma transitioning off our board. We are thrilled that Ilana, CFO of Planned Parenthood of America, has stepped forward.

Lucelle O’Flaherty, Jane Plitt, Faduma Hussein, and Ilana Esterrich. (Courtesy photo)

Ilana is an accomplished executive with extensive experience in strategy, finance and accounting, and operations. She has been recognized as a 2024 Top Women Leaders in Finance by Women We Admire and as part of the Top Finance Thought Leaders to Follow by Personiv. She is also a governing body member of the Washington, DC, CFO Community with Evanta/Gartner.

Before PPFA, she was the Chief Financial Officer at the American Coatings Association (ACA), a 501(c)(6) trade association. In addition, Ilana was the Chief Financial and Administrative Officer at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), a national security and defense research institution. She gained additional experience in consulting, operations, logistics, sales and marketing, and international operations through previous positions at Thomson-Reuters, General Mills, The Pillsbury Company, Computer Sciences Corporation, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (formerly Coopers & Lybrand).

Brittany and Jane at the ALX Dog Walk. (Photo: Lucelle O’Flaherty)

Ilana explained her interest in joining the NCWI leadership team. “As a woman in a male-dominated profession, I am interested in supporting every opportunity to highlight women’s innovations, contributions, and capabilities and to encourage and motivate women of all ages everywhere to continue blazing forward on the path set for them by so many other amazing women.” We feel awfully lucky Ilana has joined our team. For more about her, check out womensinnovations.org and consider joining us as a volunteer!

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