July 26, 2013

Selling STEM

Drawing teenage girls into science and technology

It’s no secret that teenage girls in the U.S. overwhelmingly steer clear of the career fields clustered under the acronym STEM: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But a new four-week program being held this summer at UMass Amherst is bucking that trend by giving 30 eighth-grade girls from the greater Holyoke, Mass., area an engaging, hands-on introduction to those realms.

Called Eureka!, the program is cosponsored by Girls Inc. of Holyoke and UMass Amherst’s College of Natural Sciences. It enables participants to work with faculty members on science and technology projects and to begin planning for rewarding careers and economic self-sufficiency.

Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke, notes that these girls attend schools with exceptionally high dropout rates in a county with the state’s second-lowest median income. Eureka! supports their academic and personal growth, offers career-building skills, and provides the confidence to acquire the tools and attitudes for long-term success. It encourages an I-can-do-it attitude by encouraging academic risk-taking and developing the girls’ abilities to make and learn from mistakes and to develop and integrate skills..

The program will be continued on campus during each of the next five summers, giving participants ongoing support and encouragement as they continue through high school. It is one of 12 similar programs being held across the country, some of which have already shown success in increasing girls’ interest in math and science and boosting their rates of college enrollment..

The College of Natural Sciences is committed to encouraging girls to enter the STEM disciplines,” says Steve Goodwin, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, “and our partnership with Girls Inc. of Holyoke is a supportive, long-term approach to inspiring girls to focus on getting a college degree in pursuit of STEM careers. What’s really impressive is the extent to which the program has also inspired our faculty and graduate students: more than 60 of them have volunteered to create special projects for it. 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.”