Bridging the Gender Gap: Selina N. Fights for Greater Representation of Women in STEM
For her Gold Award project, Selina N. from Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, developed a GirlsFIRST Jr. program that creates and offers workshops on the scientific, engineering, and coding skills girls will need for success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. The program also provides a supportive community for them, including women in STEM role models.
Through her research, Selina found that according to the National Council for Women and Information Technology, there will be around 1.4 million computer specialist job openings expected in the U.S. by 2020. And according to the National Academy of Sciences, women could hold half of those jobs if girls get more confidence and education in the field early in life.
So she jumped into action, hosted 17 outreach events, distributed more than 400 STEM toolkits to 18 countries, and has spoken with more than 7,000 girls, parents, and educators locally and globally on her topic. Overall, Selina has dedicated over 800 service hours to champion girls in STEM, and enlisted more than 20 Walton Robotics team members and more than 10 sponsors to volunteer more than 1,000 hours to the effort. She has even hosted STEM seminars for girls in China and Brazil.
Selina is paving the way for girls to get excited about and thrive in STEM in the U.S. and abroad, and changing the world in the process in a big way!
Q: Why did you choose this topic for your Gold Award Project?
A: Through community service in high school, I heard many middle school girls’ fears of being called a “tomboy,” and saw that many girls struggled in STEM classes and were up against the same challenges that I faced.
As a girl, I’ve battled an unwelcoming environment and endured stereotypes about my abilities in STEM that made me second-guess myself. It’s challenging to break with social norms, and whether the prejudices are spoken or unspoken, they sting. I realized that it can be too late to change a high school girl’s mind to pursue STEM and that we need to start earlier.
Girl Scout’s CEO Sylvia Acevedo encouraged our society by saying, “There’s no way that we’re going to close the gap in the U.S. without tapping into the great resources of girls and young women. STEM education isn't just doing for the girls, it's doing it for America.” Our society realizes we need to close the STEM gender gap. In order to get more women into STEM, we need to invest in girls in STEM, and foster diversity and innovation as early as possible.
Q: What challenges did you face in completing your Gold Award
project, and how did you overcome them?
A: The main challenge that I faced was becoming a persuasive public speaker in order to effectively network and fundraise for the GirlsFIRST Jr. program. I overcame my shyness with encouragement from the girls and women around me.
I used my summer to visit local businesses including Home Depot, grocery stores, nail spas, dental offices, restaurants, and gas stations. After more than six months of tireless efforts, my persistence was able to generate initial funds of $2,750 from corporations and local businesses to support more than 70 girls to participate in a free, one day STEM workshop.
Working on my Gold Award Project was challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate the value of hard work.
Q: What has been the impact of your project, and how will it be
A: The most successful aspect was the feedback we received. One parent shared, “My daughter, Sofia, wants to be a robotics engineer, and it was good for her to see other girls with similar interests.” Women in Technology Executive Director Sandy Welfare also praised GirlsFIRST Jr. by saying, “Kudos and well done on delivering a program to truly get middle school girls rooted in STEM.”
The program conducted a survey before and after each event. It was amazing to see a 70 percent rise in the participating girls’ confidence to pursue STEM careers. Additionally, 80 percent were more comfortable participating in the programming, engineering and design process, and 85 percent were more effective in teamwork after the workshop.
I realized STEM is a tool for girls to succeed, a lab to create the next generation of G.I.R.L.s, go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders. I’ll continue to champion for 50/50 representation for girls and women in STEM, and work with local partners to design and implement sustainable projects that will create transformative experiences and responsible leaders. Particularly, I am interested in bringing affordable STEM education to developing countries through the use of technology.
Q: How has your Gold Award project changed you, and what skills
have you learned from it?
A: This adventure transformed me from a shy girl into a STEM advocate. Working with diverse perspectives challenged me to embrace differences, enforce inclusion, and become more open minded toward people who are different from me. I gained confidence that all girls have the ability and potential to be successful, and this eased my own fear of failure.
The skills I developed in public speaking, time management, critical thinking, persuasion, money management, and team leadership have equipped me for any future challenge. The opportunity to promote STEM in China opened my eyes to the lasting impact I can make on the world.