Simmons Hosts Young Leaders in STEM

August 16, 2016

(from left) Saadya Raymond, 14; Stephanie Grassi. 14; and Tsion Biruk, 15, present the findings from one of their summer experiments at the 2016 Science Club for Girls Young Leaders in STEM Summer Showcase.

Science Club for Girls 2016 Summer Showcase

“Poo knew?” asked Toluwalpe Moses, Annie Miall, and Hermella Kebede as part of their presentation at the 2016 Young Leaders in STEM Summer Showcase, held on August 11 at Simmons College.

Operated by Science Club for Girls and now in its fourth year, the program engages young women from Boston and Cambridge in six weeks of hands-on life and computer science work in MIT laboratories. With the support of both mayor’s offices, Simmons College, EMC, and other benefactors, 15 high school-aged women earned weekly stipends for their participation.

In addition to learning that the wombat produces square-shaped poop, and that geese poop once every ten minutes, Miall, 16, says “We made unbreakable bonds with each other. I really loved the lab experience.”

Participants learned new subjects each week, and then performed a hands-on experiment at the end of the week. They studied such topics as bacteria in micro-organisms and diverging microbes in relation to moisture in the environment.

Lonsdale Koester, Executive Director of Science Club for Girls, the sponsoring organization for the Young Leaders in STEM program, believes the program impacts participants in many important ways.

“They get an expanded sense of what they can do and what they can be,” she says. “They begin to see how broad the STEM field is—it’s not just goggles and lab coats. This experience instills a curiosity to learn more, and it connects them with mentors to help with that learning.”

According to Simmons Professor and Chair of Chemistry and Physics, Jenna Roecklein-Canfield, the Young Leaders in STEM program in many ways mirrors the way the sciences are taught on campus. Young Leaders are mentored by MIT graduate students, and then they in turn mentor 5 to 8-year-olds, leading them through scientific experiments. “Their ‘Teach Back’ method is similar to our tiered mentoring philosophy,” she says. “This program completes the tiers at Simmons, ensuring we reach all the way down to the 8th-grade level.”

“This program has a consistent track record of success, and their mentorship model resonates with our own mission at Simmons: recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in STEM,” Roecklein-Canfield continues, “Any program that puts a pipefitter in the hands of young people works.”

Dina Benayad-Cherif, 20, is living proof of the impact this program can have. Having just returned from Cupertino, Ca. where she completed a hyper-competitive internship at Apple working on the Apple watch, Benayad-Cherif took time out to attend the Young Leaders in STEM Summer Showcase before she returns for her junior year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. A computer science major, she intends to enter the field of wearables and health technologies after graduation.

She says the experience was invaluable. “It is an amazing program. I attribute so much of my success to Science Club for Girls.”

“We want it to be fun,” says Koester, “but we also want them to connect with each other. Science is hard, and it can be lonely. We want them to know they are part of a sisterhood.”

“I learned a lot about speaking up for myself and gained my confidence,” says Benayad-Cherif. “I met a lot of mentors, who taught me to fight for what I want. These are incredible women who are changing the world.”

From left: Saadya Raymond, 14; Stephanie Grassi, 14; and Tsion Biruk, 15, present the findings from one of their summer experiments at the 2016 Science Club for Girls Young Leaders in STEM Summer Showcase. Photo credit: Jeremy Solomon.

A mom and daughter engage in a STEM activity.

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