Georgia Tech Students Develop Stempower to Mentor Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Girls in STEM
When five Georgia Tech students — Brenna Fromayan, Natalie Leonard, Wendy Ng, Anokhi Patel, and Kaitlin Rizk — co-founded Stempower in 2014, they wanted to boost the flagging self-confidence of young women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, despite their natural interest and ability.
“As women pursuing STEM degrees from Georgia Tech, Stempower was personally relevant to all of us from the beginning,” remarked Leonard, an undergraduate in the School of Psychology. “The majority of the co-founders had a role model who provided direct encouragement. Yet for girls growing up without a role model, where can they turn for support? We knew that we needed Stempower to fill this gap.”
Stempower is a mentoring program offered by Georgia Tech women students that encourages girls to explore STEM and learn key character values. Partnering with the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta, two Stempower mentors meet bimonthly with fourth- and fifth-grade girls in a given troop. Each meeting is comprised of a different STEM activity — building rockets, making circuits, or learning to code — paired with a character lesson like encouraging questions and valuing mistakes.
“Research shows that young women start losing interest in math and science during middle school. We created Stempower to mentor elementary school girls in STEM, thereby increasing their self-confidence and providing relatable role models,” said Rizk, an undergraduate in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial & Systems Engineering.
Three years later, after initial support from the Grand Challenges Living and Learning Community, Stempower has become one of the outreach initiatives of the Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology (WST), with eight Tech mentors and 100 Girl Scout mentees in the U.S. Stempower was also launched at Uganda’s Makerere University after Rizk witnessed similar women’s empowerment issues during a service project a few years ago.
“After mentoring for years, I still clearly remember my first meeting with a troop,” Leonard reflected. “The meeting opened with a broad discussion about women scientists and engineers. Upon mentioning Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, girls raised their hands and jumped up and down for the opportunity to tell me what they already knew about her. After this first meeting, I walked away impressed by their knowledge and energy and encouraged that supporting these girls through Stempower would help each of them thrive.”
According to Carol Colatrella, professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, assistant dean for graduate studies, and co-director of WST, “We are excited to support Stempower as their efforts align with WST’s mission and goals to promote the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women students and faculty in STEM fields.”