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Breaking Barriers in STEM with National Grid

Kate Sease Posted by: Kate Sease Grants Manager

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Girls Inc. of Worcester is one of six Girls Inc. affiliates that participates in Girls Inc. and National Grid’s innovative STEM partnership. Since 2011, National Grid has generously providing funding to support impactful STEM programming and experiences to thousands of girls in the Northeast.

To hear more about the direct impact National Grid’s support has on Girls Inc. girls, we spoke to Brenda Nikas-Hayes, the Director of Eureka! STEM & Leadership program at Girls Inc. of Worcester. Brenda shared how her team is preparing girls to pursue STEM education and careers!

1. How has National Grid supported your STEM programming?

National Grid supports more than 170 participants enrolled in the Girls Inc. of Worcester’s Eureka! and Summer STEM and Leadership programs. Eureka! is an intensive, long term program that brings girls, including many who will be first generation college applicants, onto local college/university campuses for a rigorous, STEM based summer program. Girls begin the program as rising eighth graders (a time when many girls typically lose interest in STEM) and continue through high school graduation. Eureka! continues through the school year, with the cohorts of 30 girls staying intact and sharing hands-on, minds-on, untimed and ungraded opportunities for guided exploration and skills and knowledge building.

2. What does a typical day of Eureka! programming look like at Girls Inc. of Worcester?

There is no typical day in Eureka! programming at Girls Inc. of Worcester, special things happen every day! For example, this past summer, girls spent four weeks on the following college and university campuses: Worcester State University, Clark University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Becker College. They worked with professors in the lab studying biodiversity in water, learned about laser optics and urban studies. At Becker College, girls gained hands-on experience in animal science as they assisted a veterinarian (a strong, smart and bold Girls Inc. alumna!) in her work. Girls observed the intake process, worked in the lab and got to practice what they learned by performing surgery on stuffed animals in the operating room!

3. What impact has National Grid’s support made on Girls Inc. of Worcester girls?

In addition to providing funding that supports our programming, National Grid also provides Girls Inc. of Worcester girls with the experiences and role models they need to envision futures in STEM. We have gone on field trips to the National Grid Sustainability Hub and this past May, we hosted 12 National Grid employees for an interactive panel discussion. This panel was so important to Girls Inc. of Worcester girls because it gave them the opportunity to see the variety of careers available at a STEM company. Lawyers, engineers, physicists, community managers and more all shared their stories and how they got to where they are today. A crucial takeaway for our girls was that there is no typical way to get into STEM and that you do not have to follow a straight path to find success. There will be twists, turns, and tough decisions along the way. The National Grid panelists also shared that in addition to developing the technical skills you need to land a job in STEM, that in order to succeed in these male-dominated fields, it’s just as important that girls find their voices and develop the confidence needed to speak up and speak out.

4. Can you share any stories of particular girls who are interested in pursuing STEM fields?

One of our members is currently a sophomore in high school and she’s in her third year of Eureka! Through this program, she completed an externship at University of Massachusetts Medical School in the Prevention Research Community Lab. While she always knew that she wanted to pursue medicine, this experience illuminated all the possibilities within prevention research and the huge impact her work could have on individuals, and entire communities. She was also accepted to participate in Girls Inc.’s Teen Advocacy Council, where she is working alongside her peers from across the country to help advise and direct Girls Inc.’s network-wide campaign aimed at preventing K-12 sexual harassment and violence. She was the only (!) sophomore accepted and is looking forward to further developing her leadership skills as she advocates for creating a healthier, safer culture for all young people.