A group of eighth-grade girls from the greater Holyoke area will get a hands-on introduction to science-related learning this summer through a new program announced June 17 by leaders of Girls Inc. of Holyoke and the College of Natural Sciences.
Eureka!, a nationally recognized program designed to engage girls 12-18 to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, begins on campus July 8, where about 30 participating girls will work on projects with STEM faculty members for four weeks. The program, which is scheduled to run for five years, will provide access to college campuses and academic STEM experts who act as program facilitators and coaches, as the girls continue through high school.
Eureka! is aimed at addressing the gender gap in STEM fields. The New York Times recently reported that girls in the U.S. are not exploring science-related fields nearly as often as boys. The program begins by addressing girls in middle school who are at high risk of losing interest in STEM as they are beginning to set educational goals and identify future coursework.
Eureka! encourages an “I can do it!” attitude through academic risk-taking, making and learning from mistakes, skill development and an integration of skills. Girls receive constant support from staff throughout the program as they work towards economic self-sufficiency and rewarding futures careers. Established Eureka!programs have demonstrated success through increased interest in math courses and higher numbers of college enrollment.
Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, says the girls served by the organization attend schools with exceptionally high drop-out rates in a county with the second lowest median income in the state. Eureka! offers underserved girls an experience that supports their academic and personal growth, offers career-building skills, and provides the confidence to acquire the tools and attitudes for success after high school.
“Eureka! has proven to get great results and has helped transform the lives of girls,” says Parker. “We are thrilled to be one of 12 Eureka! programs across the U.S. and to partner with the College of Natural Sciences to launch such an innovative program here in western Massachusetts.”
“The College of Natural Sciences is committed to encouraging girls to enter the STEM disciplines, and this partnership is a supportive and long-term approach to inspiring girls to focus on getting a college degree as well as focus on STEM,” says Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “What’s really impressive is the extent to which it has also inspired our faculty and graduate students. More than 60 have already volunteered to create special projects for this program. We all see a real need to reach out to girls and to show them that science can be fun—and that they can be scientists.”
Several partners have committed funding for Eureka! A key supporter, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, has made a three-year award of $75,000 annually through its Community Impact Education and Health Grant Program. Support has been pledged by area businesses, A.W. Hastings & Co., Westfield Savings Bank and several local foundations. The Salisbury Foundation, a Chicago-based entity that has a history of supporting transformative youth programs, has also made an initial award of $5,000 for the first year. Combined with the support of UMass Amherst, Eureka! is a great example of a public-private partnership, says Parker.
The campus is rolling out the red carpet for the girls participating in the program. John Blihar, director of Campus Recreation, has offered the girls the opportunity to use the Recreation Center and participate in a range of recreational activities. The girls will also get to sample the award-winning food in the dining commons at a reduced rate, thanks to Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises.
Girls Inc. of Holyoke is part of a large national network of 90 affiliates across the United States and Canada. The organization help girls overcome economic, social and gender barriers to grow up healthy, educated and independent by providing life-changing programs and experiences. Its mission is to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold by providing them the opportunity to develop and achieve their full potential. Through our year-round programs, Girls Inc. of Holyoke serves more than 250 girls ages 5 to 18. An additional 1,800 girls benefit from outreach and workshops.
Photo: Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, speaks at the June 17 kickoff event for the summer Eureka! STEM learning program. Standing with Goodwin is Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, which is partnering with the college to offer the Eureka! program next month to 30 eighth-grade girls from the greater Holyoke area.