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Meet Sandy Marshall - Founder & CEO of Project Scientist Nurturing the Female Future of STEM

The world's view of "who" a scientist is and "what" a scientist does is changing one girl at a time, thanks to Sandy Marshall and Project Scientist. With a dream to increase diversity in STEM by inspiring girls, Sandy founded Project Scientist in 2011. Now, over 20,000 girls across the nation are being nurtured and educated to help lead the world in solving tomorrow's greatest challenges. Project Scientist is determined to reach STEM girls and support them throughout their STEM pursuits, education and careers. The future of STEM is female! Today, we are honored to share more of Sandy's story and inspiration.
What inspired you to create Project Scientist? What was the need you saw in your community and what vision do you have to support young girls?

I started Project Scientist when my daughter turned four and I couldn’t find a science program for girls her age. We began with six girls in our backyard. When NASA agreed to have their female leaders Skype with our girls, I realized we had the makings of something special. By the end of 2022, we will have served 20,000 girls nationwide, ages 4 to 15, through live, virtual summer STEM programs, after-school STEM Clubs, and mentoring.

I was motivated by the National Science Board’s research that the long-term prosperity of our nation will increasingly rely on talented and motivated individuals in STEM. I also learned that to drive innovation in STEM, we need to support girls at a young age, build up their confidence in STEM subjects, and support them in building a vision for themselves to believe that they too can be a scientist.

I’m passionate about reaching girls as young as 4 years old, before societal norms tell them STEM isn’t for them. With girls that young, you’re really just trying to pique their curiosity through affordable, high-quality programming that uses play to encourage learning.

Our programs were in person prior to the pandemic. Now we’ve shifted to a hybrid model with virtual instruction for groups of girls at schools, after-school programs, and other settings. Girls at home can also take part from anywhere in the U.S. We’re looking to refine what we do with a dedicated virtual STEM program for 4-to-6 year olds, available in both English and Spanish, that draws upon everything we’re learning about virtual teaching.

As the Founder and CEO of Project Scientist, how do you hope to revolutionize women in STEM?

Women make up about half of the U.S. workforce, but we’re only 27% of STEM workers. The figures drop to single digits for women of color in some STEM careers.

Project Scientist pushes back against gender stereotyping and limited expectations for girls in STEM. We want girls to know the opportunities available in STEM. They may choose to pursue those careers or not, but our mission is to let them know all the possibilities for them, even if they don’t see many women who look like them in those fields right now. We’ll show them the steps to take to get there.

We also want to do what we can to help make STEM careers viable for mothers. We need to push forward a cultural shift so that STEM careers don’t require a woman to spend 60 to 80 hours a week in the lab or at the desk if she wants to be a scientist or engineer. Women in their 30s are leaving STEM because there’s no way to make those careers work with motherhood. We’ve got to change that. Our nation needs their talents in STEM.

We’re proud to be a trusted advisor to many well-known STEM companies based on what we’re seeing with their next generation of employees. Already, young women choose STEM employers based on whether they have an inclusive, welcoming environment. We want to be a partner to STEM companies in the cultural shift that needs to happen.

Prior to your founding of Project Scientist, you worked for NASCAR and Sandra Marshall & Associates. What did you learn in these roles that helped prepare you to create your own company and transition into a different career pathway?

I was the founder and executive director of The NASCAR Foundation. NASCAR gave me a kind of MBA through on-the-job experience. I learned about starting a nonprofit and gaining support from a variety of individuals. I honed everything from financial skills such as budgeting and forecasting, to leadership skills, to the ability to run an organization and get everybody focused on the same mission.

I had the benefit of the NASCAR brand. NASCAR has a lot of individual expertise within the company to support the foundation – from marketing to financial to legal to PR. That was different than Project Scientist, where I didn’t have any of those resources initially and didn’t have a brand to lean on to instantly gain credibility and momentum. It was really building everything off your own knowledge, your network of friends, family and colleagues volunteering their time, and your own passion to keep it moving forward.

When I left NASCAR, I created a consulting company serving clients who had foundations, including athletes, wealthy individuals and companies. It really took off. I hired more people. My goal was to get paid from that company while leading and running Project Scientist. I came to realize clients wanted my time and expertise, and it was too challenging to provide that and lead Project Scientist as well. I was getting frustrated consulting with individuals on their own nonprofits when I wanted to spend time on my nonprofit. I closed the company to devote all my energies to Project Scientist.

What advice would you give to future Inclusive Inspirational Leaders?

If not you, then who?

Something that always creeps up is the issue of having confidence in yourself and carrying the burden of the vision you have. You'll have people who say, “What gives you the right to put a stake in the ground and carry this flag?” You may doubt yourself. But if not you, then who is going to do the work you envision?

Even if you're just supporting one person, you're still making an impact. It doesn't have to be these monumental changes. When I started Project Scientist, I was serving six girls out of my backyard. I had a need as a mom of a daughter who likes science. I had absolutely no vision to be where we are today.

We’re serving thousands of girls a year now. But even serving six girls in the backyard is meaningful, because those girls are doing amazing things today. One of them is a warrior for the environment and has put on huge demonstrations with activist Greta Thunberg. Another was featured on a national TV show called Genius Junior. Your efforts don’t have to be monumental to have a bigger impact than you can imagine.

Follow more of Sandy's incredible work and projects through her various social media accounts:
  • Facebook: @projectscientist
  • Instagram: @projscientist
  • Twitter: @ProjScientist
  • LinkedIn:
Honoring the 2022 Inclusive Leader Award Winners. Please see their stories:

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