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Robots Are Better Than Cupcakes: Creating a Girls STEM Club with Dr. Hendrith

March is Women’s History Month! As many long-time members of our OzoSquad know, one of our missions is to get more girls interested in STEAM careers. In fact, our founder and CEO, Nader Hamda, started Ozobot after seeing his two daughters absorbing technology and scrolling to nowhere on their smartphones, and wanted to empower them to go from consuming technology to creating it. 

Kofi Annan once said, “there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” To empower women, we need to start when they are young girls. It is no surprise that there is a huge gender gap in STEAM careers. Women account for only 20% of the STEM workforce, but today, the majority of college graduates (57%) and master’s level graduates (60%) are women, and nearly half (48%) of this country’s workforce are women. So, why aren’t there more female engineers or scientists? 

Research has shown that it is not the lack of interest in STEM subjects. The Girl Scouts of America conducted a study of teenage girls who are interested in STEM careers. Of those girls interviewed:

  • 51% say they were more likely to have done hands-on science activities when they were younger
  • 66% say someone took them to a science or technology museum 
  • 36% say they participated in extracurricular STEM activities 
  • Nearly half (47%) of all girls say that they would feel uncomfortable being the only girl in a group or class. 

Can creating a STEM club just for girls be the key to break this gender gap? We talked with Dr. Stephanie Hendrith, a superstar educator who started a girls STEM club at two schools, about her experience and why more schools should implement a similar program. 

What ignited your passion for starting a girls STEM club?

I got a grant through Murray State and I used it because I was interested in STEM. Initially I had done a STEM day for fourth grade students that are in our local school district because there wasn’t much to get them interested in STEM as they moved further along. I kind of targeted that grade level and we noticed that the boys were out in front and the girls were equally interested, however the boys took over a lot of the activities. 

We noticed that and thought “hm, that’s not right.” So the next year, we still continued to do STEM day, but in addition to that, we started the girls STEM club. We meet after school twice a month for an hour. It gives girls a free space to be able to talk about things, explore different technologies, and kind of see what they are about without feeling like they have to compete with all the boys.

Just for the girls, we talk about different feelings and things like that. We also do a lot of things in teams. So they can pair up and get to know each other and really talk with girls their age. This girls STEM club is for fourth and fifth grade girls and research kind of shows that at this age is when girls start to not be interested in science and tech as much, so I really wanted to target that age group so they can continue and explore that love for tech in a space where they feel comfortable. 

We do things such as build cars, build bridges, a lot of Ozobots and things like that. For most of the girls, it’s the first opportunity they have to really play with technology and to get to explore things like that. We are in a pretty rural community without many opportunities to do tech and things because the districts can’t really afford it. 

What were the challenges you faced?

I thought my challenge would be getting enough girls to be interested but the very first year we had 50 signups and the second year we had 66 sign ups. It was amazing. The only challenge that came from that was getting more funding to be able to do things. 

How many students are involved?

So, I moved schools. I went from Murray middle school to Paris elementary school. That was because the demographics at perris were more high-need and I knew they had less opportunities than Murray. We have 66 at perris and they kept the club going at Murray as well. I think there are still about 50 girls there. 

Ozobots are very popular, everyone LOVES them! 

What are your overall goals for the girls STEM club? 

Overall, I really just like to expose them to science and tech and get them excited about it. So that hopefully they will be able to do science and tech and not just listen to other people talk about it. But really have the opportunity to be interested in it and maybe move that forward as they get older so that there won’t be such a severe drop off in the number of girls who enter into those areas.

What advice do you have for people or schools that are interested in starting a girls STEM club? 

My advice would be to start small and never think that you don’t have the interest! That is what I have learned. There is definitely an interest. When presented with the opportunity to explore, girls will step up and be excited. Just not excited, if not more excited, than being in a co-ed group.

I gave the girls a survey at the end of what they liked the most and a large portion of them said they liked that there were no boys. That was the number one thing they said in their comments. It really makes a difference. They just wanted to be alone. I would definitely do it again and expand it to more schools if possible, but the first thing was to start small.

My budget was only $1,000. That’s all I got. I borrowed things from other departments and made it work with just $1,000. You don’t need a whole lot. It’s really volunteers, free things like Code.org, and small things I can find online that we can build. You just have to be resourceful and try to work with what you have. It just requires good volunteers and commitment.

The girls will definitely come. If you offer it, they’ll be there! 

If given the opportunity and encouragement, women can do amazing things for our world! Let’s empower the women of the future today.

Dr. Stephanie Hendrith was set to present on this topic at TCEA last month, but was not able to make it. Luckily, she shared her presentation slides with us, so check them out to see more research and data from her girls STEM club.

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