Two students from Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) paid a visit to over ten Charleston County School District (CCSD) schools to encourage young girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies and career paths. The MIT Women’s Initiative is a student-founded and student-run program that aims to help close the gender gap in the STEM fields.
“I was thrilled to hear MIT selected Women in Charge and CCSD to partner with, because it is vital our young women and men understand how many tools for success STEM provides,” said Millibeth Currie, Women in Charge Program Director, and Science Department Chair at Moultrie Middle School. “If you don’t take the mystery out of successful problem solving, our students will avoid more complex problems that need solutions in our world.”
For the past 15 years, the Women’s Initiative has reached out to middle and high school girls nationally through presentations and hands-on activities led by pairs of MIT undergraduate and graduate women. By engaging with young women in school districts where there are few STEM role models, the hope is to educate girls about STEM fields, encourage their interest in STEM careers, and inform them about local STEM opportunities.
Trinity Stallins and Janice Tjan recently joined MIT undergrads and graduate students across the nation in inspiring girls to pursue STEM. They gave presentations across the district to explain what STEM is and describe the various careers available in those areas. Tjan is a sophomore at MIT majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Biotechnology. Stallins is from Arlington, Texas. She is a freshman at MIT and will be double majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Global Development, and Urban Planning.
CCSD students were encouraged to research online learning platforms, enroll in mentorship programs and participate in extracurricular activities that would lead to STEM careers or a college pathway. Stallins chose MIT because of the opportunities it would afford her and her desire to focus on global development.
“At MIT, they value each individual and encourage you to explore your passion and interest,” said Stallins. For Tjan, going to MIT was more of a dream than a reality. “I considered all of my options from community college to MIT. I was a good student but I didn’t bank on MIT.”
Kate Bynum, a Women in Charge member and eighth-grader at Moultrie Middle School, explained that when she was younger, scientists were always portrayed as nerdy men in lab coats. “As a result, I always imagined scientists as they were shown on the TV,” said Bynum. “After the presentation from MIT, I realized that anyone could have a job in STEM, and these jobs are what are shaping our future.”
The presentation helped Emma DiLalla a Laing Middle School eighth-grader, realize that a person doesn’t have to be all about one thing, and you don’t have to be so smart that you can’t have fun. “Before the MIT presentation, I thought that STEM jobs were all engineering and lab-related,” said Lilah Smith, Women in Charge Member and Moultrie, eighth-grader. “I didn’t think there were over thousands of job opportunities in the field. I have only been interested in jobs related to people and the medical field. Now I am considering looking into more jobs in the math and engineering field.”
Tjan says it’s the least she can do to pay it forward. She participated in many similar programs throughout the years where she had access to mentors such as herself. “They inspired me and it kept me tied into the STEM network,” said Tjan. “In that same spirit, I want to inspire these girls to build that same community and to keep pursuing their passions.”
For Stallins, it is critical that these young scholars know there are opportunities available. “At that age, I didn’t know,” said Stallins. “I just want to show them that the door is open and there is always a starting point to explore their interests between now and college.”
Janette Baker, Women in Charge Co-Program Director said that the MIT speakers helped students learn about women, both past and present, who have made big impacts in the STEM field and why their accomplishments were important. “Our students were also shown the important lesson that STEM careers vary greatly and there are limitless options available to them,” said Baker. “Specifically, Women in Charge members worked both independently and collaboratively to design and build paper planes. Using a weighted-category rubric, each girl evaluated her plane based on distance traveled, reliability, and trick factors. They worked as a group to choose the best design of their group, then explained to the other groups why their plane would be a great buy for the ‘Moultrie Toy Factory’. This valuable experience removed the mystery about applying to college, and for advice as to navigating high school to ensure they would be prepared for college.”
Currie said it is imperative to show students that anyone can pursue STEM opportunities on their pathway toward entering the real world and beginning their careers. “MIT refuses to shortchange our students by omitting possibilities,” said Currie. “Instead, MIT Women’s Initiative and their student ambassadors create new ideas for our CCSD students to pursue.”
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