Brite Sparks Curiosity and Career Interests

Contributed by Jennifer Hartsell Stockdale and Rinaz Jamal

July brings to mind hot sunny days and fireworks. But this year, July also sparked curiosity and career interests through Brite, an innovative, interdisciplinary STEM program designed for girls ages 13 to 16. Brite 2021 was a joint venture between the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) and The Hello Studios.

Impana's art Our organization, Williamson County 4-H, was the only program in Tennessee to receive a Brite mini-grant. This mini-grant enabled twenty girls in our county to access a customized online platform that served as a launching pad for participation in individual, small group, and nationwide activities. For eight days over two weeks, we met with our Brite team virtually for approximately three hours. We began each day with an icebreaker that enabled us to get to know one another, despite our virtual venue. Rinaz Jamal, our teen facilitator, set the stage for the day’s events by introducing the BriteTalk speaker and independent activity of the day.

Each week of the Brite 2021 summer program had a different theme. The first week’s theme was Art x Science, introducing girls to bold, innovative, and thrilling careers rooted at the crossroads of art and science. Girls completed a variety of exciting STEM projects including coding a choreographed dance routine, creating space-themed artwork, and animating their own short films with the programming language Scratch. While working independently on their projects or in Zoom breakout rooms with their peers, girls were able to consult with facilitators as needed. We were constantly amazed by the creativity and quality of the girls’ work which included drawings, paintings, computer animations, poetry, and dance.

Muskaan's Dance

During Week 1’s BriteTalks, girls connected with outstanding female role models who had created exceptional careers by combining art and science. Among these women were Yamilée Toussaint Beach, founder, and CEO of STEM from Dance, an organization to help under-represented girls explore their STEM interests through dance and choreography; Nicole Stott, an astronaut and artist who creatively combines her spaceflight experience with art to remind us that we are all crewmates on Spaceship Earth; and Munira Tayabji, an acclaimed animator and technical director of many blockbuster movies such as Home, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Shrek Forever After. These women shared their journeys, experiences, and knowledge gained. But Brite girls didn’t just hear from these incredible women: they were able to ask these STEM superstars questions in real-time! 

We were delighted to receive several emails during the first week of Brite from girls asking if they could join because they had heard from friends how much they were enjoying the Brite experience! As we all know, word of mouth sells, and Brite was selling itself.

The second week’s theme was Dream Big, Take Risks, where girls learned about thrilling and adventurous STEM careers. Girls explored saving an oceanside town from rising sea levels in a simulation, created a public service announcement about a deadly virus, and shared their dreams of having a STEM or STEM-related career, a testament to Brite’s impact on them in just two weeks. In our group, girls expressed interest in becoming chemists, engineers, astronomers, attorneys, doctors, and research scientists.

Gracemaa's STEM Dream Design During Week 2’s BriteTalks, girls engaged with Leslie Townsell, a graduate research assistant who studies climate change and its impact on marine life and who serves as CEO of Black in Marine Science; Dorothy Tovar, a Ph.D. student at Stanford University studying Microbiology and Immunology who empowers graduate students of color in STEM; and Amanda Sullivan, a researcher, and educator who helps young children, no matter who they are, become interested in STEM and conquer stereotypes even before they come to know about them. The opportunity to communicate directly with such impressive, diverse women was one of the highlights of Brite. Many of our Tennessee girls utilized these opportunities to ask unique questions and share their own ideas.

Both weeks culminated in BriteFest, a celebration where students showcased their work and applauded the work of their peers. BriteFest Week 1 was headlined by Mariel Robles, a passionate artist and STEAM educator who serves students from all backgrounds and helps them find joy in learning. BriteFest  Week 2 was led by Jess Phoenix, a daring volcanologist and extreme explorer whose career centers around dreaming big and taking risks every day.

 Williamson County 4-H Group Zoom photoAs our Tennessee Brite team came to know one another, our small group interactions led to in-depth discussions sparked by BriteTalks on topics such as how toys can contribute to gender stereotypes, whether boys are inherently better at math, how teachers sometimes reinforce gender stereotypes in STEM classrooms, how women have experienced and continue to experience discrimination in higher learning and STEM careers, the challenges of work-life balance, whether we would risk our lives in pursuit of knowledge that would benefit humanity, and whether vaccine mandates should be implemented. 

As the adult Brite facilitator, these probing, passionate discussions were my favorite part of the Brite experience as I witnessed girls consider issues, perhaps for the first time, and speak their minds in a safe, supported environment.

 Summer has turned to fall, but the impact of Brite remains. We are planning a Brite Art x Science Show at our county 4-H Office where girls will showcase their Brite projects and speak with community members about their Brite experiences, inspiring more students to be curious, bold, and passionate about STEM and their own interests.

Thanks to the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) and The Hello Studios collaboration for making this program possible and to Williamson County Director Matt Horsman for supporting us as we pursue exciting opportunities for our youth. A special thank you goes to Rinaz Jamal for her excellence in organizing and co-facilitating this endeavor.

Williamson County 4-H Logo

Jennifer Hartsell Stockdale, an attorney for over 20 years, also serves as a youth educator for Williamson County 4-H. She teaches STEM classes for fourth through eighth-grade students and crime scene investigation classes for high school students. She is passionate about developing tomorrow’s great thinkers, leaders, and citizens.

Rinaz Jamal is a high school freshman and teen leader at Williamson County 4-H. She loves to learn about STEM and impart her knowledge to other students. Rinaz is extremely interested in neuroscience and psychology and, although it is hard for her to know exactly what her future holds, she knows for sure that she wants to change the world and inspire others to do the same.