Nurturing a STEM network
Corporations, colleges and universities are creating their own STEM-camp experiences exclusively for girls, sharing their expertise with campers while getting a head start on preparing tomorrow’s workforce. In Massachusetts, Meg Thacher heads up Smith College’s Summer Science & Engineering Program for high school girls, which has recently expanded. This summer’s four-week course features topics unlikely to be covered in depth in high school: the chemistry of herbal medicine, designing intelligent robots and the Python programming language.
Post-program surveys consistently show girls report improved feelings of competence and persistence around STEM and a desire to pursue careers in science, Thacher says.
“Our program connects girls with a cadre of other girls interested in science,” she says. “They stay in contact with each other even after the program’s over.”
In New York, at the Intrepid Museum’s six-week summer STEM intensive program, rising freshman and sophomore girls from across the five boroughs engage in activities around aerospace, astronomy, engineering, technology, and Earth and marine science. Much of the learning is built around the museum’s collection of several dozen aircraft, including helicopters, Navy jets and space shuttles. Girls also visit places like a local toxicology and pharmacology lab and the South Street Seaport Museum, where they head out on a schooner for a water-quality testing activity.
Lynda Kennedy, vice president of education and evaluation at the Intrepid Museum, agrees that it’s the relationships forged over the summer that empower girls. “They have each other to lean on and mentors to reach out to,” she says.
Every Friday at the Intrepid Museum is “Career Friday,” when girls hear from women working in STEM jobs. Past speakers have included a chemist who develops fabrics for the fashion brand Coach, and Kiran Gandhi, who has a mathematics degree and is also the drummer for the artist M.I.A. “It gives them a world view of what the realities are and how to get from point A to point B,” Kennedy says.
As with other STEM camps for girls, the museum stays in touch with campers, keeping them up to date on opportunities so they stay interested, engaged and continue their learning path to a fruitful STEM career.
According to a recent KnowledgeWorks Foundation report on redefining job readiness, as technology advances, success at work will depend more on social relationships that support learning, collaboration and innovation. Workers who thrive amid uncertainty, creatively solve problems and effectively partner with both machines and people will be among the most successful.
“We want to build a network for these girls,” Kennedy says. “Girl-focused STEM programs provide a community of support, and going forward that’s something that will really help sustain them.”