By Carrie Scheick, Program Coordinator
There is a large gender gap within STEM careers. Keystone Science School hopes to engage as many female students in STEM education and challenge the gender gap to inspire social change within STEM fields. We launched our Girls in STEM program in 2015, targeting 3rd-8th grade students hoping to get them excited about these fields and careers.
Four years later, we expanded our program to include a Girls in STEM High School Mentor Program, a leadership program striving to empower high school girls to be confident and positive female role models, as well as encourage continued engagement in STEM opportunities.
This idea was born from Maia Wang, a long time KSS program participant. Maia has been a part of our Girls in STEM program since it started. Her interest in the activities and her enjoyment of science, math, and academic related subjects is what made her want to get involved. Maia’s favorite thing about the program is learning how to do new things. “One year we learned how to code and design a website and I just thought that was the coolest thing.”
I first met Maia during the summer of 2017 and then worked with her during Girls in STEM programs throughout the fall. We were catching up this past summer and I asked if I would see her at any of the Girls in STEM programs the rest of the year. She told me that she was a freshman in high school would no longer be able to participate. “I was disappointed as I think that the activities and experience you gain by doing Girls in STEM are really valuable,” said Maia. “I think that any aged girl should be able to educate themselves about women in STEM careers and ideas involving STEM.”
Maia’s family agrees, they love that their daughter has been part of our program. “There is pretty substantial research showing that many girls lose confidence in their potential to excel in STEM fields around 5th-8th grade.” says Cecila Wang, Maia’s mother. “We think it is wonderful for Maia to meet, learn from and work on a tangible project with the amazing counselors/instructors and fantastic volunteers in the program. Each interaction and experience has been so positive, and we love the breadth of STEM careers she is finding out about.” Her parents have also noticed positive changes in Maia based on her involvement in Girls in STEM. “It has certainly played a role in her confidence in her abilities and her belief that the world is full of opportunities, and if she goes for them she will be enriched in some way. It has also nurtured her curiosity about the world.”
During our conversation, Maia simply asked me “What if there was some way that we could still be involved once we’re in high school?” Gears slowly started turning in my head. I smiled and told her I would try to figure something out.
I started to think about ways that we could continue to engage high school students in our Girls in STEM program. How could we provide development of interpersonal skills and leadership opportunities? Our summer camp has a great leadership development program for middle and high school students - the Counselor Assistant Program (CAP). What if our Girls in STEM program had something similar?
Thus, the Girls in STEM High School Mentor Program was born. Keystone Science School invites all interested high school girls to get involved, regardless of if they have participated in our Girls in STEM program before. We are piloting this program this year, and hoping it will continue to grow in the years to come. We want to see girls who participate as an elementary and middle school students, stay involved in our programs after their transition to high school. By transitioning these girls from participants to leaders within our program, we are fostering a continued connection to STEM topics and developing these girls into future STEM leaders. We hope these girls choose to pursue a STEM degree and/or career and then come full circle back to our program as a professional mentor.
That’s the really big picture and long term goal of our Girls in STEM program. In the short term, we hope that our High School Mentor program empowers high school girls to be positive female role models, develops friendships, and inspires confidence and self-awareness. In addition to developing these skills, girls can participate in our programming at a significantly reduced cost and earn community service hours.
Our Girls in STEM program fosters an amazing community of females, students and adults alike, and we hope you join us!