Science Club for Girls Introduces Young Women to STEM

August 31, 2017

Science Club For Girls participant explains scientific theory to student

This summer, Simmons students and faculty came together to mentor women and girls in STEM!

"To work with all women is empowering,” said seventeen-year-old Juliana Vazquez of the Young Leaders in STEM Program held at Simmons this summer. “They are doing amazing things in the science field. When you are actually here you can see them in action. To come here and get the support you need from women is a great experience."

Vazquez, a rising senior at East Boston High School, was one of 11 participants in the 2017 program which is run by Science Club for Girls, a Cambridge-based non-profit co-founded by Mary McGowan ‘75LS that fosters young women’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math, particularly those from under-represented communities. The six-week program includes hands-on experiments and group discussion in the areas of chemistry, neuroscience, computer science and synthetic biology.  

Simmons professors Nanette Veilleux and Jennifer Roecklein-Canfield and assistant professors Mariam Ismail and Amber Stubbs served as mentors along with Harvard Medical School Professor Maria de la paz Fernandez. This year the program included a combination of lab work and leadership training as well as curriculum development for elementary school children. Each Friday, participants shared what they learned with rising first graders at a day camp at the Amos Lawrence School in Brookline. Students also received a modest stipend through the support of the City of Boston’s summer jobs program and the town of Brookline’s Steps to Success Program.  

On Thursday, August 17, participants showcased their work to an audience of professors, program organizers and family. Tables in the Linda K. Paresky Center featured projects in the four areas of study.

Rakiesha Gay, a recent graduate of Boston Latin School (BLS) and soon-to-be Northeastern University freshman, hosted the synthetic biology table with BLS rising sophomore Christy Nguyen. Their job was to explain the “Burnt Pancake Problem,” a method of manipulating and tracking the survival of E. Coli bacteria using a combination of engineering, math and biology. Gay and Nguyen agreed that the program gave them the opportunity to use their creativity to solve scientific problems. Gay, who plans to become a pediatrician, added, “It was a good way to get experience in all of the different fields of STEM.”   

Roecklein-Canfield, who serves on the Massachusetts Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, said having the girls work with the elementary school children strengthens participants’ connection to the scientific concepts they’ve learned. “Developing that scientist identity early is so important for retention in STEM fields.” She said.

Rising Simmons junior Rosa Moya is majoring in biology, and served as a student mentor for the program. She said participants learned to turn difficult concepts into lessons that young children could understand. “The experience affirms their leadership skills and helps them to organize an idea."

From left: Ginika Okoli, rising sophomore at Boston Latin Academy, Rosa Moya, Simmons mentor and rising junior at Simmons, and Juliana Vazquez, rising senior at East Boston High School.