It probably won’t surprise you too much to learn that only five percent of audio engineers are women. However, it might surprise you to learn that there has been an alarming decline in the number of women enrolling in college STEM programs – almost 70 percent since 2000. Terri Winston, a songwriter, composer, recording engineer, and producer, is working to change that reality.
Winston founded a San Francisco based nonprofit called Women’s Audio Misson (WAM). This nonprofit works to train girls and women in the recording arts. According to their website, WAM “weaves art and music with science, technology, and computer programming and works to close the critical gender gap in creative technology careers.” So far, their program has reached and trained thousands of girls in the recording arts.
WAM encourages girls to learn more about math and physics by making the process fun, creative and exciting. Winston said, “We’ve kind of cracked the code on how to attract girls to studying tech. We don’t talk about the fact that it is STEM, we say, ‘basically you just used code to make a synthesizer to make sounds come out of this thing and you had to use a computer to do that. Then all of a sudden being a computer scientist is cool.’”
Recently, the non-profit opened a satellite office in Fruitvale in order to expand its free program called Girls on the Mic. The program works with girls ages 11-18 in order to help them learn more about the STEM world in a fun environment. According to their website, “WAM has created the only hands-on, after school curriculum specifically tailored for girls and based on both the California Department of Education and National Core Media Arts Standards.”
Not only does WAM have access to creative technology and digital media, but WAM also receives their training in a professional recording studio that was built and run by women. The recording studio was home to former projects from Alanis Morissette, Timbaland, and Radiohead. The hope is that the topics the girls learn about in the studio will spark a lasting interest.
Emily Martinez, a 12-year-old girl who received her first lesson on creating sound effects, shared that this project has given her an outlet that she didn’t have at home. She said, “I used to play drums and sometimes I get in trouble at home for playing with my forks and spoons but here it’s really cool because they let us make beats.”
Alyssa Nevarez, a young woman who has completed WAM’s adult training program, said, “For all the films I’ve worked, I am usually one of maybe one or two women on the crew, and when I do find other women I kind of cling to them. I try to help other women whenever I can [and so far] I’ve helped at least six get into the field.”
Winston is building so much more than a nonprofit that is working to change the face of sound – she is building a community and giving women and girls a voice. It is amazing to see the great strides that she has made in breaking down gender barriers that have kept women from pursuing audio engineering or the STEM fields.
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