Choosing to Challenge for Girls in STEM

Penny Noyce

On March 8th, International Women’s Day 2021, we are asked “What will we do to help forge a gender equal world?” At STEM Next Opportunity Fund, we take this challenge seriously, and it is the driving mission for our work. Today we join the challenge by celebrating women’s achievements and honoring the contributions of our board chair, Dr. Pendred (Penny) Noyce. She challenges us and inspires us to build fun and inspiring ways for girls to find their passion while we break down the barriers that exist for girls on their path to gender equity in STEM.

Photo: A born explorer, Penny at Sierra Club Wilderness Camp

Penny’s early inspiration and interest in science began with a hydroponics project she worked on with her dad and mentor, Robert Noyce, an inventor and entrepreneur. For Penny, like most girls, that mentorship gave her the confidence to continue exploring and questioning the world around her. In 6th grade, while incubating (and then dissecting) chicks, her classmates, especially the girls, squealed and complained. But when their science teacher gave them an impassioned appeal, Penny saw the beauty and mystery of life and wanted to keep learning, all the way to the medical school anatomy lab. And her family supported her in this interest.

When Penny went to medical school, only about 30% of her classmates were women. Today, the ratio in medical schools is equal (1:1).  Women like Penny found pioneers to follow, challenged the system and stuck it out to later become mentors themselves for young girls mesmerized by the natural world. She works to create an encouraging welcome for girls and women of all backgrounds to professions in science and medicine.

Photo: Penny Noyce at Medical School Graduation with her dad and mentor, Robert Noyce

We know that with intention and focused effort, gender equality is possible in all STEM fields, but we have a long way to go. The proportion of women earning bachelor’s degrees in physical sciences is 39%, engineering is 21%, and computer sciences 19% (NSF, 2019). And for women of color, only 2% of practicing scientists and engineers are black women. (McGee & Bentley, 2017).

Penny and her family started the Noyce Foundation to honor her father, but the mission soon became personal, as the trustees realized the great impact fun, engaging, hands-on STEM through afterschool and summer learning could have on a young girl’s trajectory. Penny has dedicated much of her professional and personal life to ensure that all girls can see the beauty and majesty of science and are inspired to ask more, explore more, and challenge more. She is an accomplished author and a publisher at Tumblehome Books, striving to open minds and provide inspiration by sharing the stories of women in science who chose to challenge what is, with what could be.

Serving as the chair of STEM Next Opportunity Fund, the legacy of the Noyce Foundation, she continues to challenge us to keep forging ahead, with an unwavering focus on creating gender equity in STEM through compelling learning experiences that extend beyond the school walls. We take this charge seriously and honor her today for lifting up and celebrating women in science who chose to challenge!

#IWD2021 #ChoosetoChallenge #MillionGirlsMoonshot

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