a whole-girl approach to engaging adolescent girls in stem

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The Career Exploration, Leadership and Life Skills (CELLS) framework embraces multiple programs for teen girls to develop an identity around STEM while achieving personal goals.


  • Keys to success: girls provide input and have choice; prepare speakers and guest workshop leaders; provide examples of challenges and how they were overcome; affirm girls struggles, efforts and accomplishments

    Introduction CELLS (Career Exploration, Leadership and Life Skills) is a youth development umbrella we have adopted to describe the approach and programs that have evolved in our work with 7-12th grade girls as we listened to them and learned from the literature. Semi-formal Sister Circles, natural mentoring from our staff and conversations with trained volunteers allow girls to bring their whole selves to SCFG. Intentional discussion of personal goals in relation to specific STEM-related activities build a framework for identity development that bridges multiple dimensions.

    Conclusion!CELLS is a developmental framework and relationship platform that can 1) recruit and retain adolescent girls from underrepresented groups in STEM-related activities through multiple pathways; 2) improve or maintain their attitude in science and engineering; 3) develop agency and leadership.

    Program Results Positive relationships The majority (>75%) of girls indicated that they formed strong or very strong relationships.

    Sense of achievement When asked what surprised them the most, 84% of girls who were part of the challenge teams referred to their technical accomplishment.

    e.g. This was probably the hardest thing I have done. I never thought that I could build a rocket that went up 658 ft!

    Sense of efficacy Amongst the 30 JMs who responded to a narrative survey, 85% of those who were previously not interested in science (n= 13) became much more engaged, especially in the topics they taught.

    e.g. Now I think science is cool and there [are] so many questions about science that are still not answered. I kind of wanna figure those out.

    This quote exemplifies those whose interest was maintained.

    e.g. I don't think being a junior mentor has changed my attitude towards science because I already love it.

    CELLS: A whole-girl approach to engaging adolescent girls in STEM!Erika OBannon and Connie Chow, Ph.D.!

    Science Club for Girls, Cambridge, MA!

    Science Club for Girls!The mission of Science Club for Girls is to increase K-12th grade girls confidence and literacy in STEM through hands-on learning, mentorship, and leadership opportunities.

    Girls work with mentor-scientists who model and foster leadership, affirm college as an expectation, and promote careers in science and technology as goals and options.


    Acknowledgments!We thank Dr. Georgia Sassen for providing coaching and consultation on the relational model of development; to Col. Peter Young for leading the Rocket Team; to Rachel Stedman and Julie Baca for leading the Rube Goldberg team.

    Funding for this program is supported in part by the Motorola Foundation, Boston Scientific Foundation, Amelia Peabody Foundation, Dolphin Trust, Genzyme, Biogen Idec Foundation, Proctor and Gamble and other supporters.

    Selected references!Coalition for Science After School. 2007.

    Science in After-School, A Blueprint for Action.

    Cheri Fancsali, Ph.D. 2003. What We Know about Girls, STEM, and Afterschool Programs. Educational Equity Concepts.

    Catherine Hill, Christianne Corbett, Andresse St. Rose. 2010. Why so Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. AAUW.

    Judith V. Jordan et al. 1991. Womens Growth in Connection: Writings from the Stone Center.

    Participant profile!In 2009-10, 60 girls participated as Junior Mentors and in Sister Circles, 12 in two Challenge Teams and 4 received internship placements. ~70% were in middles school. 65% of girls in the CELLS program in Fall 2009 were returning, with an average participation of 2.25 years in SCFG (range = 1 8 years). The majority of girls were from public schools in Cambridge, MA.

    An 8th grade girl, who had been part of CELLS as a Junior Mentor said, "I didn't think I had the brains to become a scientist...People gossip that [it's] a boy's job or about how only nerds and geeks can be scientists. Over the last semesters, I learned it doesn't matter what your race, age, or appearance is. You can do anything and become anything you put your mind to... It's about having friends and peers to encourage you through your goal, which is the relationship I had with my team in SCFG. Science Club for Girls made me realize that I have the power and the knowledge to become a scientist and the power to help others dreams or goals come true.

    Sister Circles!Goal: provide a safe space for girls to connect, to reflect on and to set goals around their academic, physical, social and emotional development

    weekly or monthly workshops Topics range from team-building, leadership development, public speaking, sexual health to financial management etc

    career exploration field trips occasional social activities and an annual retreat

    Program goals!CELLS builds positive youth assets in four areas. 1) Positive identity (self-worth, awareness of strengths and support);

    2) Positive relationships (sense of connection and empathy towards mentors, staff and participants);

    3) Achievement and efficacy (mastery, leadership skills, change in attitude and confidence in STEM); and

    4) Future orientation (awareness of pathways to college and careers).

    Career Exploration, Leadership & Life Skills


    Youth Council (in development)

    Junior Mentors



    Peer Mentors / Team Leaders

    Figure 1. CELLS is the youth development umbrella under which a palette of semi-sequenced STEM and leadership programs fall. Girls try on different STEM-related identities and are given the space to explore their own development through multiple pathways ( examples )"

    Sister Circles

    Challenge Teams Goal: to create sense of achievement by engaging with experts to develop specific technical skills through publicly demonstrated projects

    Key to success: communicate clearly that the primary criterion is interest, since many students who receive B and C grades self-identify as not-a-science-person

    A. Rocket Team




    Design, mechanical engineering

    Team America Rocketry Challenge

    B. Rube Goldberg

    Team Society of Women

    Engineers (SWE)

    Design, mechanical &

    electrical engineering

    AAAS Family Day demo

    C. Media Team

    PressPass TV

    Documentary filmmaking

    Awards event & YouTube broadcast

    Internships!Figure 3. Teaching science at the MIT Museum (left). Boston Universitys CityLab summer biotech program"

    Junior Mentor program!Goal: to maintain and improve girls sense of efficacy by creating a STEM teaching and learning environment

    Key to success: maximize their sense of selves as effective mentors and scientists through training and feedback; educate mentors on how to share responsibility with JMs

    Adolescent girls co-teach weekly Science Clubs with adult mentor-scientists

    Experienced JMs who exhibit leadership and inquiry skills become Peer Mentors and can eventually lead their own Club

    Figure 2. Team-building through problem-solving."(Below) Visit to IDEO"

    A. "

    B. "

    Girls in clubs"Fellow JM"

    JMs at same site"Mentor-scientist"Your supervisor"


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