Boys & Girls Club connects students with STEM mentors

Through a series of interactive virtual field trips, EarthEcho International and the Santa Clarita Valley Boys and Girls Club were able to connect female STEM professionals and local girls at the clubhouse. By having girls from diverse backgrounds see and talk to role models who look like them, officials said the organizations hope to create a pipeline of women who will enter STEM-related fields in the future.

Women, especially those who are minorities, continue to be underrepresented in fields relating to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but local boys and girls clubs hope to change that.

The Santa Clarita Valley Boys & Girls Club has worked with EarthEcho International in recent months to raise awareness about marine conservation and connect young girls of color to female STEM professional mentors, according to STEMExplore program head Kasey Opalewski.

Through a series of interactive virtual field trips, which are now accessible to anyone online at stemexplore.org, EarthEcho International connected female STEM professionals with girls across the United States, Opalewski said, adding that the virtual field trips occured between Oct. 25 and Dec. 6 and hopefully inspired local girls to embark on a journey into STEM careers.

“All of the virtual field trips basically follow the same formula,” Opalewski said. In total, the stemexplore.org website houses more than 30 career profiles, and the idea behind them — and the field trips — is to introduce girls in underserved communities to women in STEM careers.

“What these women are doing is telling their story — what they do, who they are, who inspired them,” Opalewski said. Students are able to ask questions during the Skype session, and, typically, touch on issues such as, “What’s it like being the only female in the your field?”

Biologists, geologists and civil engineers are but a few of the professions that were featured in the field trips, and participants were usually between sixth and 12th grade and resided in states across the country, Opalewski said.

Aerospace Engineer Monica Dujic, right, is one of the more than 30 career profiles available to view at Stemexplore.org. During the profile, Dujic discusses the responsibility of a ground test engineer and the procedures they are typically responsible for.

“The point is to introduce diverse women to girls that can relate to them and say, ‘Oh my God, that’s me. Your story is similar to mine. I can do this,’” Opalewski added. “We’re opening the door to show these girls that there is potential to get into a STEM career no matter you where come from.”

White men get bachelor’s degrees in computer and information sciences at more than four times the rate of their black female peers and nearly seven times the rate of their Hispanic female peers, according to the Center for American Progress.

By having girls from diverse backgrounds see and talk to role models who look like them, Opalewski said, the organizations hope to create a pipeline of women who will enter STEM-related fields in the future.

“It’s important for girls to see professionals who look like them,” so they know that they too could one day have a career in STEM, Ciara Poolman, an engineer at United Technologies, said in a news release. “For young women interested in becoming engineers and scientists, the reality is they won’t see as many women — especially women of color — in those roles as men.”

“It’s incredible that this year’s Nobel Prize Laureate in physics, Donna Strickland, is only the third woman to ever win the prize and the first woman to do so in 55 years. We need to do much better than that,” EarthEcho founder Philippe Cousteau Jr. said in the release, adding that he hopes the virtual field trips inspired a future scientist, so the world won’t have to wait another 55 years for another woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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About the author

Brennon Dixson

Brennon Dixson

Brennon Dixson covers education for the Signal. He comes to Santa Clarita from Long Beach, where he was previously employed by the Press Telegram in Long Beach and the Daily Breeze in Torrance.