October 18th, 2019 was a historical day as the first spacewalk was performed by an all-female crew. Although women have been astronauts and had a strong presence within NASA for decades, this symbolic recognition has become a talking point throughout the nation.
This event comes to us fittingly during STEM month. Today’s society often places a negative pressure on young girls, disheartening them to pursue STEM careers. That is why role models that go against the norm such as the two astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are pivotal examples in proving that women are not limited in achieving their dreams.
Currently, STEM classrooms are among some of the most segregated with a 70-30 male to female ratio. Encouraging participation to even the divide would not only help women to feel more accepted but also increase the diversity of ideas. A homogenous environment often leads to a lack of ingenuity. By bringing in a variety of perspectives, a diverse cast is able to explore more solutions and better round out the workplace.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Lena Crowley, the Director of Middle and High School Programs, at Girls Inc. of Lynn, a partner in the Mass Mentoring Partnership network. Girls Inc. operates a robust variety of STEM programs meant to encourage young girls to pursue education and careers related to STEM. From summer camps for elementary schoolers to paid internship opportunities for high school girls at major companies such as Biogen, the opportunities and offerings facilitate a wide range of needs and interest levels. Girls of all ages have the opportunity to learn not only from professionals, but also from upperclassmen who can provide informal mentoring relationships and create a nurturing environment.
These programs serve not only to encourage interest in STEM, but also to develop critical thinking skills apt for all areas of study and expertise. Research has shown that young girls start off just as interested as boys in science, but that this interest wanes overtime, likely due to stereotypes and a lack of role models. By eighth grade, boys are twice as likely as girls to be interested in STEM careers.
Frankly, I was blown away by not only the quality of the programs offered, but also by the variety. Environmental science programs such as Beach Sister, a collaborative program hosted by Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and Girls Inc., offer an interesting way to get young girls involved while learning about environmental stewardship. In this program, half a dozen high school Peer Leaders deliver after-school programming to elementary and middle school girls along with mentoring from an AmeriCorps Beach Sisters Fellow. Many of the Peer Leaders go on to complete summer internships at the Marine Science Center. Alternatively, events such as the SMART Girl Summit offer ways for older members to participate in workshops led by local professionals such as engineers from General Electric. From weekly programs to one-time events, there was an event for every level of interest and dedication. Although there is still much to be done, seeing wonderful organizations such as Girls, Inc. leaves me hopeful for the future.