There is no doubt that there is a need for professionals in the STEM fields in this country, especially women. ITEC in Lansing, in partnership with MCWT, is jump-starting girls’ interest in STEM with their 2020 Girls program, launched just this year. About 100 middle school girls are participating in programming, engineering and design activities led by female instructors and assisted by women currently in the field.
I attended one of these classes, where the girls were presenting what they learned over the course of the session. Brightly decorated posters with pictures encapsulated what the girls liked best. The girls eagerly shared how they built racing LEGO robots and programmed games using Scratch. Mostly they learned how to use tools to create, design and solve problems while working together and building confidence. As Kirk Riley, Executive Director of ITEC, explained, it’s “an ordinary environment to do extraordinary things.”
While ITEC more formally surveys the girls at the start and end of the sessions to gauge impact, if you asked any of the girls, they were excited by what they learned and eager to come back. This eagerness and excitement is what really impressed me — what we really need to encourage girls to continue learning. These girls had the opportunity to experience STEM at its best and hopefully this excitement encourages them to take more STEM courses in their schooling.
With the success of the 2020 Girls pilot program, ITEC hopes to double, or even triple, the amount of schools they’re operating in, as well as extend the duration of each program. The only real “complaint” they received from the girls was that the clubs didn’t last long enough (5-7 weeks). Ideally 2020 Girls will run the length of a semester starting in the fall.
The curriculum used for 2020 Girls was compiled from ITEC’s “Techtronics” courses (Lego Robotics, Programming and App Design). They spent a good deal of time identifying the core content of each course and implementing it in a way that is more relevant to girls, which was implemented by the instructional team. With 5-6 2020 Girls clubs this summer, the Science and Art of Game Design will be added (more instructional time). Graduates from the program will also have the opportunity to re-enroll during the following semester as mentors to new girls. This will allow the instructors much more liberty to explore the curriculum, while also providing additional time for guest speakers and field trips.
ITEC will extend the 2020 Girls program this summer to a camp and hopes to renew their grant to offer sessions next school year and summer. If you’re interested in helping, volunteers to assist in the classrooms are coordinated through MCWT. For more information, please visit the 2020 Girls page on the ITEC website.