Prepare girls to be workforce leaders through STEM

Develop girls’ enthusiasm for and skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Through hands-on activities, girls explore, ask questions, persist and solve problems.

Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia & Southern New Jersey’s research-based, outcomes-tested and age-appropriate STEM programs are offered during the school year and summer for girls ages 5-18. Each year, over 600 girls participate in a variety of exciting and compelling projects and career exploration opportunities that explore the cutting-edge world of STEM including coding, environmental science, civil engineering, robotics and much more. Our strategy is to introduce girls to STEM early and keep them engaged through high school so that they don’t succumb to the persistent stereotypes that girls are not good at or aren’t interested in STEM. At Girls Inc., we understand that girls face unique challenges to success. So, while we are inspiring girls to pursue STEM academics and careers, we are also helping them navigate potential roadblocks to success with supporting programs in healthy decision making, life skills and post-secondary planning.

What is the community need that this idea addresses?

Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 29% of the science and engineering workforce. Since 1990, the percentage of women in computer occupations has gone down by 7%. Girls’ disengagement with STEM starts young. By the time girls are 11, they are already losing interest in science and math, and only 14% of teenage girls want to be a scientist. It is critically important that the persistent stereotypes discouraging girls from pursuing STEM careers are dispelled and other obstacles that get in girls’ way are removed. Girls deserve supportive, experiential, all-girl environments where they feel invited and encouraged to join the fun of discovering the world around them and where they can prove to themselves that they do like and can excel in STEM. Such a foundation is key to girls persisting in STEM education. This is where we step in with Operation SMART.

What is the solution that is currently in place?

Operation SMART is a STEM education continuum designed to retain as many girls as possible in STEM-focused enrichment programs from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Starting with a STEM-based early grade literacy program for girls in K-3rd grades, our youngest learners are introduced to STEM fields and women in these professions. From 4-7th grades, girls have hands-on STEM enrichment through Girls Inc. in their schools and in our intensive yearlong STEM GEMS program offered on Saturdays. Eighth- to 12th-grade girls are invited to participate in Eureka! Eureka! is a five-year program offered in partnership with Drexel University that brings girls, including many who will be first generation college applicants, onto Drexel’s campus for an intensive summer program. Eureka! continues through the school year with college readiness activities at Girls Inc. We offer additional STEM in-school and summer opportunities for high school girls not participating in Eureka!

How will a Key to Community grant help?

Girls start losing interest in STEM by 11 years old. Our STEM GEMS program is a critical piece of the larger Girls Inc. STEM education continuum, boosting girls’ interest in STEM at an age when most are disengaging. Currently, STEM GEMS has 40 participants, 4-6th grades, with a waiting list. Having multiple grades also means that girls may be at very different developmental stages. If awarded the Key to Community grant, we will restructure STEM GEMS into two cohorts of 30 girls – one cohort for 4th and 5th graders and another for 6th and 7th graders. An academic support component will also be built into this model to ensure that girls are reaching their academic goals. We will expand our peer-to-peer mentoring model, where STEM GEMS are mentored by girls in our high school leadership programs. Funds from the grant would also allow us to add an additional two-week summer STEM program for 25 girls in grades 8-11.

Idea Submitted by:

Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey

Our mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold, through direct service and advocacy. In partnership with schools and at our Girls Inc. of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey center, we focus on the development of the whole girl. She learns to value herself, take risks, and discover and develop her inherent strengths. The combination of long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and research-based programming equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers, and grow up healthy, educated, and independent. We offer programs for girls ages 5 – 18. These programs focus on leadership and community action, STEM, early reading literacy, financial literacy, healthy decision making, and media literacy. We serve over 2,900 girls annually in the greater Philadelphia region working with schools, community partners, the juvenile justice system, corporations and approximately 200 volunteers.