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Building a Community within STEM: An unexpected result from our Latina SciGirls program

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In 2016, the Children’s Science Center?was selected as one of sixteen science centers from across the U.S. to receive a grant from Twin Cities Public Television and the National Science Foundation to implement a program for young Latinas over the course of three years in conjunction with PBS SciGirls. We were confident that we could provide the girls in the program a fun, unique educational experience, but the unintended outcome of creating a supportive and caring community for these young girls, and the overall positive impact on staff and volunteers exceeded our expectations.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 report, Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study, only 3.5% of bachelor’s degrees in STEM were earned by Hispanic females in 2010. This systemic underachievement in STEM can be attributed to several issues including: limited awareness, opportunities, and resources; existing perceptions about STEM; and lack of family involvement. Our Latina SciGirls program to begin tackling this important issue.

Latina SciGirls is a free program for Hispanic girls in grades 3-5 and their families that takes place twice annually over the course of several weeks at the Children’s Science Center Lab in partnership with local Title I elementary schools in Northern Virginia. Latina SciGirls is a culturally responsive program designed to address barriers that prevent Hispanic girls and their families from engaging in STEM and to promote a positive STEM identity. Critical elements of the program provide young Latinas with opportunities to engage with Latina STEM professionals to foster mentoring relationships and a parent education component to support their daughters’ interest and achievement in STEM.

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Latina SciGirls program begins with an open house event held at the elementary school. Students, parents, and families meet program staff and the Latina STEM mentors while participating in hands-on STEM activities. Each subsequent weekly session covers a different STEM topic: physical sciences, environmental science, engineering, forensics, biology, and chemistry. The Fiesta de la Familia event celebrates the end of the session with families, girls, program staff and the Latina STEM mentors for a night of hands-on STEM activities. The goals of the program are to increase access for Latinas and their families to positive STEM programming, and promote positive STEM identity development. To ensure regular attendance of the Latina SciGirls program, the Center provides complimentary dinner and transportation each week for the duration of the program.

Over the course of each session, the Center’s staff watch as the girls’ confidence in STEM grow. Our staff take pride in their ability to create a warm and safe environment where the girls feel empowered to take risks and share their thinking while exploring STEM. The girls are introduced to female role models that they would not otherwise encounter. Having access to professional Latina mentors who share their own stories of success and failure has proven beneficial to the program. Although the program focuses on STEM, the girls practice working collaboratively, and building relationships among peers and adults — important life skills for every child’s future. We hope the girls take this initial spark and continue their investigations into the world around them, especially as they enter the crucial middle-school years when STEM interest statistically plummets. We believe each girl leaves the program open to new experiences, ideas, and people, with increased confidence and a stronger sense of self. Many of the program’s alumna seek out additional STEM experiences to grow their newfound interest.

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What started out as a program opportunity has evolved into a passion project. The Children’s Science Center has served over 100 young Latinas since 2016 and is grateful to Twin Cities Public Television, General Motors, and Leidos for their sponsorship. Latinos comprise 17% of Northern Virginia’s population. With this population steadily increasing, the Latina SciGirls program will continue to be in high demand. As the Center moves forward with the capital campaign to build a full-scale science center that will more adequately serve the region’s families, we also look forward to expanding the reach of significant programs like Latina SciGirls.

At the core of the Children’s Science Center’s educational mission is a dedication to meeting the needs of all children, in particular reaching underserved and economically disadvantaged children who traditionally do not have access to private enrichment opportunities. The Center impacts over 70,000 annually with its community programs and the Children’s Science Center Lab. The vision of the Center is to build the region’s first world-class children’s science museum on donated land in Dulles, VA.

The Center is grateful for the enthusiastic participation of a community of volunteer mentors, who have come in to lead and facilitate our STEM activities and tell their own stories of success and failure. STEM mentors have included women from NASA, USDA, PBS, FBI, and the Virginia House of Delegates. There are many opportunities through the Center to volunteer and make an impact on our local community. Information can be found here.

Sharing Online

Did you catch “Online Mentors to Guide Women Into the Sciences” in this weekend’s New York Times?

Hundreds of prominent women working in science, technology, engineering and math will become online mentors for college students next month, part of a six-week program to encourage young women to pursue careers in STEM fields.

[...] The program has no curriculum, no exam, no grades and no credit — just a goal of connecting young students with accomplished women working in STEM fields.

[...] While women now earn more college degrees than men over all, they lag in STEM fields — particularly computer science and engineering, where they earn less than 20 percent of all undergraduate degrees.

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New Territory

[...] I believe that we have been doing this not primarily to achieve riches or even honour, but rather because we were interested in the work, enjoyed doing it and felt very strongly that it was worthwhile.

Scientific research is one of the most exciting and rewarding of occupations. It is like a voyage of discovery into unknown lands, seeking not for new territory but for new knowledge. It should appeal to those with a good sense of adventure.

Nobel Banquet speech, December 10, 1980, of two-time Prize-winner biochemist Frederick Sanger (born today in 1918)

Turning The Tide

Yesterday, the 2012 International AIDS Conference (“Turning the Tide Together”) began here in DC. According to the International AIDS Society, the Conference is:

… the premier gathering for those working in the field of HIV, as well as policy makers, persons living with HIV and other individuals committed to ending the pandemic. It is a chance to assess where we are, evaluate recent scientific developments and lessons learnt, and collectively chart a course forward. [...]

By acting decisively on recent scientific advances in HIV treatment and biomedical prevention, the momentum for a cure, and the continuing evidence of the ability to scale-up key interventions in the most-needed settings, we now have the potential to end the HIV epidemic.

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Single Ray

A single ray of light from a distant star falling upon the eye of a tyrant in bygone times may have altered the course of his life, may have changed the destiny of nations, may have transformed the surface of the globe, so intricate, so inconceivably complex are the processes in Nature. (February 1983)

The scientific man does not aim at an immediate result. He does not expect that his advanced ideas will be readily taken up. His work is like that of the planter — for the future. His duty is to lay the foundation for those who are to come, and point the way. He lives and labors and hopes. (July 1934)

Serbian-American physicist Nikola Tesla, born today in 1856

What Kind of Life

What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what’s going on. (1971)

We have to prepare for what life could become in 40 years. We need to outline what is possible and what is impossible with the non-renewable resources of the Earth. What role will technological improvement play? Taking all this into account, what kind of life can we produce in the best way for 10 billion people? That’s a problem that needs to be solved. (2004)

– Jacques-Yves Cousteau, French researchers & naval officer, born today in 1910

Learn more about Catalogue’s nature nonprofits right here.