Lyda Hill Philanthropies is on a mission to empower women in STEM across the U.S.
Through its IF/THEN initiative, the Dallas-based philanthropy has made many commitments to fund world-changing advancements in science and nature. The first-of-its kind coalition—announced earlier this year, in March with a $25 million commitment—is built on the idea that “if we support a woman in STEM, then she can change the world.”
It’s all about inspiring the next generation of female innovators and pioneers in science, technology, engineering, and math—going beyond job preparation to actually ignite a cultural shift and change in perspective.
A core component of the multi-faceted initiative involved choosing a group of successful women, in partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to be AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors. The ambassadors represent diverse STEM-related professions, including entertainment, fashion, sports, business, and academia.
“We are living in a pivotal moment in time for women. We are convinced that now is the moment to focus on elevating our women leaders to ensure they have the tools they need to make discoveries that will save our planet,” Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies and co-founder of IF/THEN, says. “The second part of that is to tell the stories of their work so that young people—girls and boys everywhere—have hope that they, too, can change the world.”
The 125 selected ambassadors (Small said around 700 women applied) are meant to serve as examples for middle school girls. Their role involves attending events, sharing their personal stories, and being featured in a digital asset library of media content to be distributed by female-facing institutions across the country.
“We have 42 states represented, including Puerto Rico. We wanted women in all different careers,” Small told Dallas Innovates. “We have someone as young as 17, and as experienced as 61. We have very advanced careers, and we have post-docs. We wanted a real diversity. We wanted an ethnic diversity. We wanted everything that we could get.”
Small said the ambassadors range from the team doctor for the U.S. women’s soccer team to an esteemed cancer biologist to Boeing and Southwest Airlines execs.
“We want every little girl to see herself in one of these women,” Small says. “We wanted them to see people that physically look like them, and then intellectually they can identify with their passions.”
The ambassadors were announced in September, but this week gathered for the three-day IF/THEN Summit in Dallas. The “STEM rockstars”—10 of them from Dallas-Fort Worth—participated in “boot camps” to undergo training in engagement techniques like communication, media and public relations, social media, and storytelling. Each ambassador gets a press kit, professional headshots, and “power” photos.
“The event is meant to create a cultural shift of the perception of women in STEM,” Small says. “The ambassadors are getting media training, they’re getting public speaking training, and they’re getting to spend time together cross-learning about each other’s professions. I’m most excited that the women are enjoying their time getting to know each other and finding kind of a coalition of collaborators in the work that they’re doing.”
Look inside the IF/THEN Summit
The week began with the AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors attending training sessions on social media, engaging with teenage girls, and effective storytelling. “An Evening of Science and Storytelling” with Lyda Hill ended the day, with Academy Award winner Geena Davis, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle and other VIP guests attending.
Sessions continued into the next day, which included individual photo shoots and 3D printed full-body scan.
The Twinstant Mobile Full Body 3D Scanner was a special part of the summit; it was on-site at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science to take a scan of each ambassador.
Following the scan, a team of exhibit designers are going to produce a life-size 3D-printed statue of each ambassador. The statues will then be prominently displayed together in one monumental exhibit, with the location to-be-announced.
Lyda Hill Philanthropies said it was the “largest scale” 3D printing project of its kind.
Even more importantly, when finished, the exhibit will boast the most statues of women ever in a single place.
The project was inspired by a recent study of the top ten U.S. cities (including Dallas) and their publicly accessible statues. The results showed that less than half a dozen statues of American women exist.
For the final day of the summit, the ambassadors visited schools at five local schools to share their personal STEM testimonials with middle school students.
“We really knew that bringing these women together was as important as the training. We wanted to be able to provide them with an extremely high quality experience so that we could bring the best-of-the-best here to them,” Small says. “We thought it would make sense to bring them all to Dallas at the same time to give them this opportunity to be together and meet all of these amazing people.”
As a result of the summit, a digital library of photos and custom content will be created. Called the IF/THEN Collection, the assets are intended to be a tool for increasing the number of images in the world of real women in STEM. It will be made accessible for the media, educators, and nonprofits to share.
Small says she and her team also executive produced two shows: “Fast Forward Girls” on YouTube and “Mission Unstoppable” on CBS. The ambassadors get to be featured in both.
“One of the things we like to do at Lyda Hill Philanthropies is invest and be a catalyst in getting new ideas going,” Small says. “So we’re just going to take this year as it comes and then we’ll figure out what the steps are next year.”