For many girls, the prospect of attending college seems like an unattainable dream. But thanks to Girls Inc. and its innovative Eureka! program, cohorts of lucky young women are learning the steps necessary to make that dream a reality.
There is no compelling reason as to why girls do not enter the fields of science, technology, engineering or math at the same rate that boys do, except for a possible lack of support from family or community along the way. The Eureka! program is designed to provide girls with that added bit of encouragement, and a whole lot more, to nudge them toward higher education and exploration of STEM careers.
The pilot program, launched two years ago, brought the first cohort to the campus of UCSB over two consecutive summers. The girls got their feet wet (literally), acquiring new skills that would enhance not only their school lives but their personal lives as well.
“The girls were in a classroom, but not necessarily doing equations all day,” said Jessica Wetzel, program manager. “They did the ropes course, jumped in the pool, and challenged themselves with fun physical and group-building activities.”
The girls also met with college professors and college students, who were able to share the real-life college experience with them. Maria, a second-year participant, said, “Listening to a peer share her journey about getting into college got me really excited. I know someday that I will be in the college of my choice, too.”
“We provide a continual support system for these girls,” Wetzel said. “From the smallest detail to the big decisions, the Eureka! program is designed to guide and nurture them throughout the five-year commitment.”
Now entering phase three (of five), the intrepid group are preparing for their workplace externships. The girls will each be placed with a local company that will offer four weeks of invaluable on-the-job learning and mentoring. While placement in a science or tech-based company would be ideal, the girls will be learning professional job skills no matter where they are.
“The girls will begin their externships with a week of preparation, learning how to dress professionally, communicate with supervisors and conduct interviews,” said Kayla Cherland, the externship coordinator for the Eureka! program.
Once on the job, the externs will shadow their mentor, soaking up practical skills that will transfer to any industry. Cherland said the externs will be closely monitored to ensure a good fit between the worker and the sponsor company. Many companies have stepped forward to share their expertise, but more sponsors are desired. Of course, it’s a win-win investment for all involved. As more girls complete the Eureka! program, there will be more “strong, smart and bold” college graduates giving back to the community.
Girls Inc. Executive Director Victoria Juarez attributes the success of the Eureka! program in large part to the continued and generous support of community partners.
“This program is a true partnership,” she said. “Local businesses provide our girls with the chance to gain invaluable on-the-job experience while our on-campus summer program at UCSB prepares them for academic success after high school. This focused, multiyear effort combining college and career preparation is unique and we hope to see our model replicated across the country at other Girls Inc. sites.”
A bright future is ahead for these soon-to-be teachers, engineers, scientists and computer experts who will soon be inspiring the next generation of young girls.
For more information about the Eureka! program or to sponsor an extern this summer, please contact Kayla Cherland at 805.684.6364.
— Kim Drain represents Girls Inc.