Do you remember that moment when you first caught a glimpse of the work that would become your career and your passion? Was it in a traditional classroom, or were you sparked by some other engagement with the world at large? At Girls Inc. of Holyoke, we know that all girls are capable of building successful and exciting futures, but that many young women face social barriers that can impede this journey. That’s why Girls Inc. implements powerful informal education programs that uphold girls’ rights, provide interesting challenges, and support and empower them to achieve their full potential.
Eureka! is such a program, launched in 2013 in collaboration with the College of Natural Sciences at UMass Amherst. Eureka! is a holistic model, focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), health and wellness, and personal development. By empowering girls in STEM and collaborating with Campus Recreation and UMass Dining services, we are building girls who see themselves as strong, smart, and bold. Eureka! is a five year program, recruiting 30 new rising 8th graders annually and following them until they graduate from high school. Eureka! Scholars spend an intensive month each summer traveling daily to the UMass campus to take college level STEM workshops along with focused health and wellness programming from volunteer faculty on campus. The Eureka! vision is to inspire girls with hands-on, minds-on opportunities for untimed and ungraded knowledge exploration. It’s an approach that works for many girls seeking new ways of learning, like 14-year-old Angelynn from Holyoke.
A second year Eureka! Scholar, Angelynn is like many 9th graders: not yet sure what she wants to do with her future, and seeking something motivating that will help shape and give meaning to her high school years. A fiercely independent and self-directed learner, Angelynn has struggled with success in traditional school environments, though those who know her curiosity and intelligence are often shocked to find this out. But through her work with Eureka! and two summers on the UMass Amherst campus, Angelynn has found the tools to forge her own journey.
In summer 2014, Angelynn took a Eureka! workshop from College of Information and Computer Sciences faculty member Ben Marlin, who is now finishing his third year volunteering for the program. With the guidance of Professor Marlin and his graduate students, Angelynn learned Scratch, a free visual programming language designed as an accessible entry point for those interested in coding. Angelynn created her own Scratch animation, and instantly fell in love with the world of computer programming.
This July, Angelynn interviewed for and was accepted as a Peer Leader with Eureka!, a role of increased responsibility only available to program veterans. Her first request was that she be allowed to run a Scratch club during Eureka!, so she could teach other girls how to use the programming language she had come to love. For four weeks, this introverted 14-year-old supervised and motivated 10 of her Eureka! peers to create their own Scratch projects. After a field trip to Google later in the month, she returned with the knowledge of Pencil Code, and promptly began teaching the advanced Scratch users the new program.
Girls Inc. programs open doors for girls like Angelynn, not only showing them possibilities but building their confidence to become leaders and experts in the subjects that inspire them, no matter what those may be. Your support of Girls Inc. of Holyoke ensures that Eureka! and programs like it can continue to be a resource for girls like Angelynn, who are seeking their inspiration in fields traditionally underrepresented by women, and who may be the first in their families to complete a four-year degree.
As Angelynn begins high school this fall, she brings with her the confidence and leadership skills that will give her a leg up on her future. At Girls Inc. of Holyoke, we know her strong, smart, and bold journey has just begun!
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