Judy Vredenburgh (Girls Inc.): A Summer of STEM Discovery
Submitted by Tommy Cornelis on August 9, 2012
When you were a child, how did you spend your summer? Fishing? Swimming? Maybe being a bit bored?
How about extracting DNA from fruit, building robots, and experiencing a college campus?
At Girls Inc., summer brings one of our most exciting STEM programs, Girls Inc. Eureka!®. Designed to engage girls ages 12 to 18 in exploring science, technology, engineering and math, the long-term goal of Eureka! is to inspire girls to pursue post-secondary education and careers in these fields. This multi-year effort combines STEM programs, personal development activities, and sports with an intensive experience on a college campus and STEM internships. It not only reinforces their STEM school year learnings, it also gives girls time to explore and discover away from the pressures of tests and picture themselves in STEM-focused academia and jobs.
Perhaps most importantly, it invites girls to explore STEM in hands-on, fun, and future- focused ways in middle and high school, when many girls start losing interest in these areas. It introduces them to real laboratories and other places of STEM learning and business, and builds confidence in taking positive risks and problem-solving.
It is a program we are expanding as part of a strategic plan to reach more girls. This year, we have several new sites across the U.S. and we’re starting to hear the success stories already. Machari,13, is one of our first timers in Memphis. Eureka! was the first opportunity she’s had to do any science outside of school. She found meeting adults working in STEM fields, ranging from innovators, to gene analysts and engineers “exciting and enlightening.”
Machari’s favorite experience was hearing from an employee at Merck who took the girls through the product design and packaging process, and got her thinking about careers. She connected immediately with this volunteer and the concept of having a job where her ideas can become reality. After only three weeks, Machari looks at science as not just a school subject anymore, but an interesting, rewarding possibility for her future.
We have several affiliates who have provided Eureka! for many years, and are helping inform our expansion process. They have their own stories to tell, like that of Taliah of Birmingham, AL.
Growing up, Taliah loved math and technology, but doubted herself and had no idea where this interest could take her. In Eureka!, she loved the hands-on computer and math activities, developed confidence through sports, and met women engineers. So she started taking AP Calculus and researching STEM college majors. Whenever she worried about being in the minority as an African-American young woman, she thought about her Girls Inc. experience. Today she is a Girls Inc. national scholarship recipient and a graduate of Alabama A&M University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. This fall, she will begin a MBA program to master the business side of her field.
It is stories like these that make me cheer, not only because of the infectious joy of these girls and their great intelligence and determination, but also because we are seeing real results. With the support of committed facilitators, corporate volunteers, and donors, Girls Inc. Eureka! works to bring out girls’ confidence, interest, and aptitude for STEM.