By Grace Jin – 12th Grade, North Allegheny Senior High School
As one of only four girls in my AP Physics class, I can attest to the fact that women today are still underrepresented in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. However, the movement to empower female scientists recently has gained momentum. From the White House Initiative for Women in STEM to the STEMinism club founded at my high school, many passionate people are working together to close the STEM gender gap.
Propel Charter Schools is one organization striving towards that goal. By offering a 2-week summer camp for middle school STEM Girlz, Propel slows the summer slide through fun opportunities such as gardening, career exploration, and field trips.
When I walked up the hill to Propel Homestead, a friendly staff member led me into the sunny courtyard. The girls were already hard at work, pulling weeds from the garden beds. As I took in my surroundings, I learned from Haley (nicknamed “the hairmaster”) that Grow Pittsburgh made the schoolyard gardens possible. Jaymeisha, wearing blue overalls and a confident smile, pointed out the tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, garlic, peas, mint, and roses. Service-learning allows students to explore science while serving their community – a model that many other schools should consider.
After an hour of gardening, the girls threw down their soiled gloves and headed inside the classroom for a lesson on the “E” in STEM: Engineering. The lesson began with the history of women in engineering: Margaret Knight, the “lady Edison,” and Caresse Crosby, who invented the brassiere. Combining lecture with hands-on learning, the instructor asked the girls to build tall structures using only Q-tips, rubber bands, and plates. This activity taught not only engineering skills, but teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which are necessary for success in the modern workforce.
Throughout the week, the girls participated in diverse science and math activities. They tested the pH of shampoo and its effect on hair health through microscopic examinations. They visited the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and will take a much anticipated field trip to the Carnegie Science Center Sportsworks.
While immersed in a classroom-to-career education, the girls earned several Digital Badges – recognition from Pittsburgh City of Learning to showcase their skills – such as Urban Gardener, Perseverance, and STEAM Explorer. These “gold stars” not only document the girls’ scientific journey but also prepare them for colleges, internships, and careers.
Summer is a time for kids to be kids, and the STEM Girlz got a perfect combination of learn and play. The girls spent their lunch break playing in the courtyard with their new friends. Courtney, a rising 7th grader at Propel, smiled brightly as she volunteered to turn the jump rope; Bre, Shakeema, and the other girls took turns running in and out, jumping and tripping as laughter filled the courtyard.
As I watched a butterfly dance in the bushes, I reflected upon my day at Propel. The amazing work done by Pittsburgh nonprofits and schools gives me hope for a generation of innovation. Hearing the words “I want to become a software engineer!” come from a middle school girl, I cannot help but be inspired by the pioneering women who came before and the young girls who are forging their own paths.
Grace Jin is a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School. She has edited for VARIATIONS magazine, won Scholastics awards, and published multiple art and writing pieces on Teen Ink print magazine. Grace lives in McCandless and loves to play piano, paint, and eat ice-cream.