Female students get science, technology lesson law enforcement-style 

click to enlarge Female deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office educate young girls about the use of science and technology in law enforcement. The visit was a joint effort by the Sheriff’s Activity League and Rocket Fuel. - COURTESY KIWOBA ALLAIRE
  • Courtesy Kiwoba Allaire
  • Female deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office educate young girls about the use of science and technology in law enforcement. The visit was a joint effort by the Sheriff’s Activity League and Rocket Fuel.

Girls participating in an after-school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program recently received a primer on the science of crime fighting from a pair of female sheriff's deputies.

The event was a collaboration between the San Mateo County Sheriff's Activity League and Rocket Fuel Gives Back, the philanthropic arm of Rocket Fuel, an online advertising agency.

Rocket Fuel Gives Back founder Kiwoba Allaire said the ongoing STEM classes are offered at Rocket Fuel's Redwood City headquarters, and the 50 students currently participating are mostly Latina youths from East Palo Alto and Redwood City.

When asked whether the visit from sheriff's deputies might be consistent with efforts by other Bay Area law enforcement agencies to encourage women of color to join their ranks, Allaire said the event was really about introducing young women of color to STEM careers in general.

Allaire acknowledged that law enforcement might not be the first thing most people associate with the STEM fields, but the visiting officers involved the third to sixth-grade girls in a host of activities and lessons that highlighted the Sheriff's Office's use of science and technology.

Assistant Sheriff Trisha Sanchez and Deputy Rosemary Blankswede brought a forensics lab bus to the event where they taught the students how to collect DNA samples from saliva and lift fingerprints from crime scenes, Allaire said. Other lessons included using a radar gun to determine whether passing motorists were speeding, and the deputies also addressed specific challenges women might face in law enforcement.

Sanchez explained to the girls that some members of the public might "judge a book by its cover," noting that female officers are sometimes not as physically intimidating as their male counterparts, according to Allaire.

But when one of the students asked Sanchez if she'd ever fired her gun in the line of duty, the assistant sheriff stressed that conflict resolution skills can often make it unnecessary to use force, Allaire said.

"She told the girls, 'Yes, I have a gun, but the best weapon I have is my mouth and my ability to communicate peace and harmony,'" Allaire noted.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Rebecca Rosenblatt said participation in the STEM program is just one of many things her agency is doing in order to foster the possibility of having a more diverse work force.

Another recent effort was last year's boot camp event, in which male and female deputies volunteered, answering questions from women who thought they might be interested in law enforcement careers. Rosenblatt said everything from the written tests to the job's physical requirements was addressed.

The Sheriff's Office is increasingly interested in job candidates with four-year degrees, Rosenblatt said, and the more variety, the better. While training in STEM-related fields can help a candidate's chances of joining a local police agency, Rosenblatt noted her organization also places a high value on the cultural competency that candidates might gain from studying psychology, sociology, management, leadership, ethnic studies, or even liberal arts in general.

As for the girls in Rocket Fuel's program, Allaire said the weekly activity sessions tend to shape how the students view their own futures.

"At the beginning of the year, we ask the girls, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' and they say things like, 'I want to be a ballerina,'" Allaire noted, "But now they're saying things like, 'I want to be a mathematician. I want to be a children's counselor.'"

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