The 2016 Girls of Promise conference, held on March 10-11 in Little Rock, was another big success. There were 150 eighth grade girls from all across Arkansas in attendance to learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). The eighth grade was chosen because it is a pivotal age when girls begin to internalize negative stereotypes that discourage academic achievement and denigrate those who do not conform to peer expectations and social pressures. The girls met others like themselves and realized it is acceptable to be a bright, motivated girl with big dreams.
We had a diverse group of women STEM professionals on hand at the 4H center in Ferndale on March 10. These women shared their stories with the girls and engaged them in hands on STEM activities.
Our women STEM mentors included a neurosurgeon, conservationists, coders, engineers (across many disciplines), a nutritionist, a veterinarian, and pilots.
Cynthia Sides, Associate Director for the University of Arkansas Office of Entrepreneurship and founding director of UA’s IGNITE program, was our lunchtime keynote speaker. She shared her personal story of feeling isolated as a teenager. While she was high achieving in high school and college, she found herself unsure what career she should pursue and how she could contribute. But by believing in herself and being willing to try new things, she has ended up in the “best job ever.”
Our evening keynote speaker was Julia Charles, an associate professor of African American Literature at Auburn University. Julia grew up in foster care and frequently moved homes and schools. However, she too believed in herself and the power of education. She encouraged the girls to believe in themselves and follow their passions. She mentioned that she thought she had to make a choice between studying literature and sports medicine, so choose literature. She said she wishes she had tried harder to find the intersection between the two so she could have done both. We knew the message was getting across when one of the girls told her it wasn’t too late!
The evening ended with the selection of the winner of our Girls of Promise, Tech for Good contest. In December, WFA hosted a Girls Can Code hour at the Governor’s mansion. At that event, we announced our Tech for Good contest. We asked 6 – 12 grade girls to create something techie for a nonprofit organization in their community. AT&T was the sponsor of our event. Our tech experts picked the top five entries and these girls were invited to the Girls of Promise conference to present their solutions.
The girls started their day by visiting with the governor to discuss their tech solutions. All these young women are created amazing things. We had a team that has created 3D replicas of artifacts for their local museum, another created a website to support families who have children with autism, another created a website for her local community center to promote safe and healthy activity in an effort to reduce drug and alcohol abuse and one team created an app to allow teens to track their emotions. This app includes strategies to deal with the emotions and can be used by counselors and parents to better understand what the teens are experiencing. Our winning team is building a website and app to educate teens about politics. Their research showed that only 25% of their own student body scored a C or better on a survey about our political system. This is a nonpartisan site that informs teens about our system and how they can more effectively participate.
On March 11, the Girls of Promise moved to downtown Little Rock. The girls were able to visit the Museum of Discovery and the Nature Center. During our lunch break, we had an exhibit hall that provided the girls more information about careers and opportunities in STEM.
We wrapped up the day with the Girls making a promise to themselves based on what they learned at the conference. Here are some of their promises:
I promise to do good, to be the best I can be, and to stop trying to impress people and to be me and not live for others.
I promise to never let anyone tell me I can’t do something.
I promise myself to try hard and fight for what I believe in. Be great! Be strong! Be amazing!
We will send these promises back to them in a year, to remind them to stay committed.