STEM Girl Power

. March 31, 2019.
With the assistance of volunteers from the Society of Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) University of Michigan Chapter, 4th-6th graders performed DNA extraction of strawberries.
With the assistance of volunteers from the Society of Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) University of Michigan Chapter, 4th-6th graders performed DNA extraction of strawberries.

Studies show that girls tend to lose interest in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects around fourth or fifth grade. In an effort to increase the influx of women entering the STEM field, for over seven years FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science) has been working with young girls in Washtenaw County.

Founded in 2006 at Duke University by Vicki Weston, FEMMES gained traction in Washtenaw County once Weston started the organization’s second chapter while attending medical school at the University of Michigan.

Comprised of both graduate and undergraduate students, FEMMES executive board members and a majority of their volunteers are women actively pursuing a degree in STEM. During FEMMES programming, students engage with volunteers at elementary schools, doing fun activities and experiments that help visually demonstrate scientific concepts.

“Through FEMMES,” explains graduate president, Megan Connolly, “these girls see that women can become confident in STEM. We really try to train our volunteers to take the concepts that these girls are learning in class one step further, to help them feel confident that they understand [that concept] to a higher degree.”

It’s nice for the girls to be able to engage with science in their own environment, where they’re comfortable,” FEMMES graduate vice president, Alexandra Sun noted.

FEMMES hosts local events at public schools as well as spaces such, as city libraries.

Mentorship opportunities

In addition to programming in local elementary schools, FEMMES has recently launched a new program, “FEMMES Connect,” to partner girls in grades 6-8 with a mentor to continue inspiring and demonstrating that STEM is a field they can choose to pursue.

Over half a dozen events are planned per semester to keep young students’ interest in STEM alive. The mentorship doesn’t stop there, though. Eva Chakravorty, UM student and FEMMES mentor, says that she and her mentee often watch Ted Talks, do science experiments, and even go on lab tours together.

“I like doing the different activities with the [FEMMES] program,” Chakravorty’s mentee, 7th grader Nyla Allen, said. “They help me figure out what I might want to become when I’m older. Maybe I’ll be a veterinarian.”

“I think it’s cool that Nyla has a mentor and it’s good for her to see somebody like her in school and see that she’s doing well,” Nyla’s mom, Camille, said. “It also encourages her in subjects that she might not otherwise be as interested in at school, like math and science.”

The big event

FEMMES also provides opportunities to local young girls with their semi annual Capstone event held in the U of M’s building. Girls are invited to participate in a variety of fun experiments led by college students and university professors, who take the time to contribute
to the cause.

“It’s so great when girls can come to our Capstone event,” FEMMES undergraduate president, Daria Stelmak stated. “In the University setting, they get to meet with faculty and students. They truly gain exposure to colleges and those resources available as well as learning about all the possibilities when it comes to education and potential careers.”

The FEMMES Capstone event is open to any girl in Washtenaw County and the greater Detroit area. Although FEMMES is geared towards engaging 4th-6th grade girls in STEM, the program will not turn away any interested participants based on sex, gender, or age.

At this semester’s Capstone event in March, over 180 girls, from over forty area elementary and middle schools, participated in a variety of activities which covered a vast array of scientific fields. These activities include Filtration Station: Cleaning up Dirty Rivers (Environmental Science), What’s your address in the universe? (Astronomy), Perceptions and Illusions (Neuroscience/Psychology) and more.

For more information on FEMMES,
visit femmes.studentorgs.umich.edu