Editor’s Note: To highlight the work of innovative K12 STEM education programs and educators around the country, we invite guest posts contributed by #STEMNOW leaders. This is the third in our series.
Sandy Marshall is the founder of Project Scientist, a non-profit devoted to addressing the challenges and disadvantages women and girls face in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The organization focuses on challenges including the under-representation of women in STEM education majors, STEM careers and a lack of community among female professionals and students within the field.
A key component of the pipeline we have developed is Project Scientist Academy, an educational summer camp that engages girls, ages 4-12, who have a passion for the STEM subjects. Students are immersed in STEM and experience it through a tailored curriculum facilitated by highly skilled and credentialed educators. We focus on attitudinal development, mentoring and family engagement to create an environment that fosters self-discovery, self-confidence and encourages girls to envision themselves in non-traditional roles and fields.
We just wrapped up our inaugural Project Scientist Academy during which we had the opportunity to work with 45 girls over the course of four weeks. Partnering with Queens University of Charlotte, the camp engaged the girls through hands-on learning, local field trips, interactions with numerous women STEM professionals, enrichment activities and parental engagement. Nine of the girls were able to attend on scholarship thanks to the support of the Duke Energy Foundation and The NASCAR Foundation. These students were drawn from a school with a high population of low-income, Hispanic and African-American students and all the students on scholarship met one of these descriptors.
One of the things we are committed to is providing the greater STEM community with useful data. A few of our key findings this summer are around our mentorship program and parental engagement.
MENTORS There are many ways you can make an impact in the lives of young girls, and not all of them have to be incredibly time consuming. Those interested in mentoring should find a local organization, like Project Scientist, and reach out via Facebook or Twitter to see if they have opportunities to come speak to their girls. If you’re not sure what to talk about, think about what it is about your field that inspires and excites you. Why did you decide to get involved? Was there a female from your field or personal life who you looked up to? You never know, that same thing might light a spark in another young mind. One thing we found to be really helpful for our girls was when mentors talked about why what they were learning would help them in the future. For example, connect the dots by explaining why being good in math in elementary school can help if you want to be a geologist one day.
PARENTS It’s important that you continue to introduce “real life” mentors and role models into your daughters’ lives. If you know a woman in your neighborhood that is in a STEM profession, tell your daughter about her job or better yet, ask her to talk to your daughter. Also, continue to engage your daughter in fun and educational opportunities, go to a local park or museum or if those options aren’t affordable get online and explore. There is so much information out there – especially now thanks to Pinterest – that make it easy for you to learn how you can continue educating your daughter at home in fun and engaging ways.
Going forward Project Scientist will continue to strive to expand our reach and impact as we develop a pipeline of girls excited and passionate about science who are also connected to female STEM professionals. This work is only possible through the continued collaboration with parents, communities and organizations. Project Scientist is committed to this work and looks forward to partnering with those who are also passionate about helping girls everywhere realize their dreams and potential.