Today, women fill fewer than 25 percent of jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. This statistic supports the long held myth that from a young age, boys are more adept at and comfortable with math and science than most girls. But, one public broadcasting station is determined to change that by giving girls the knowledge and confidence to succeed in STEM subjects through hands-on activities and one-on-one interactions with female mentors.
SciGirls summer camp, jointly run by The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University and WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla., is an outgrowth of SciGirls, the national PBS television series featuring real girls on adventures that incorporate different aspects of STEM.
WFSU created the camp in 2006 as a community outreach program to encourage local middle and high school girls to explore science. Through SciGirls, campers engage in a wide range of both indoor and outdoor activities, such as conducting physics and chemistry experiments and visiting the Antarctic Marine Geology Research Facility. Under the guidance of local university professionals and female scientists, the girls collect their own samples and data, conduct research, problem-solve and record their findings, just as if they were a scientist working in the lab or in the field. The campers share their experiences and activities with family members, the community and other campers through the SciGirls blog, which has generated widespread interest from across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa, and as far away as Australia.
One key advantage to the program is that students work directly with and learn from women who are working in science, math and engineering fields, which is important in inspiring the girls’ confidence and increasing their awareness of potential career options. Many of these mentors are former campers, who have gone on to pursue degrees in STEM fields and return to the program during the summer to work with those who are just now exploring their passion for science.
After meeting the creator of her favorite app, one camper said, “I never thought about computer programming as an option, because I was never really good at it, but it’s actually pretty cool.”
Beyond teaching academic concepts, SciGirls also provides students with the valuable skills — confidence, persistence, critical thinking, analysis and creativity — they will need if they choose to enter the math, science or engineering profession.
To date, more than 150 girls, many of whom are now in college pursuing STEM-related degrees, have participated in WFSU’s SciGirls camp. The popularity of the program and positive feedback from campers, their parents and teachers has inspired WFSU to create new opportunities, in addition to the summer camps, to give more local girls the opportunity to learn about science. These include various STEM activities, volunteering, attending career days and even meeting with working scientists throughout the year. Additional STEM materials are also available through PBS Parents and PBS Teachers to help parents and teachers continue to foster girls’ interest in science.
SciGirls is made possible through a partnership with the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University and grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Science Foundation, as well as donations from private institutions and businesses. To learn more about SciGirls and WFSU’s mission to introduce more girls to STEM careers visit http://www.wfsu.org/scigirls/.