The Future of Girls in STEM has Never Looked BRITE-er

Contributed by Jessica M. Hernandez and Janna Meyer-Steinhorst

It’s another beautiful summer day in the sprawling city of Milwaukee, WI. The city is budding with life as we begin to ease back into a new normal as pandemic restricts soften. As with the rest of the nation, precautions are still being taken to ensure public safety, and so we at the WE Energies STEM Center of Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) welcome another summer of virtual K-12 student learning in our continued effort to provide the community access to impactful, one-of-a-kind STE(A)M experiences. Back by strong demand, the STEM Center joins the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) and The Hello Studios in a second consecutive year of the Brite program and the results are glowing!

“Brite changes my quarantine for the better. Thank you.” This is how Molly Diaz summarizes her feelings about this year’s two-week virtual camp experience in the center of her word-collage when asked to “[c]ome up with something that visually represents what you took away from Brite.” She is one of the 15 students forming this year’s MSOE Brite Small Group and one of eight returning from the 2020 pilot program. Brite aims to increase STEM awareness and foster a sense of community among girls around the country who are enthusiastic about the potential of STEM. As part of a national collective of youth groups simultaneously running this program in our local schools and community centers, every small group is equipped with a robust content delivery structure, daily themed lessons and activities, supporting links and videos, powerful keynote speakers, and so many other valuable resources for continued learning so that we can focus on delivering a unique experience to our team of students. Bright is built in such a way where every team as the option to directly follow the day-to-day teaching schedule laid out in the Educator’s Guide, or to go as far “off-script” to fit your own agenda without fear of losing the sense of community within the national collective. Because of this design, our MSOE group was able to follow the natural pull of interest among our students without sacrificing the core theme of each week and the overarching message of Brite. It was this freedom from expectations that gave us permission to relax and be ourselves, which resulted in meaningful, memorable interactions. 

Molly D post-review of ocean game and the work of Yamilee Toussaint Beach

An exuberant Molly D. (above) post-review of Los Angeles Time’s “Ocean Game” in preparation for keynote speaker Leslie Townsell, oyster culture researcher and CEO of Black in Marine Science, (left) and Molly’s word collage commemorating her two-week Brite experience (right).

What the Brite program does exceptionally well is that it demystifies (and defies) what careers in STEM can (and what careers in STEM are believed) to look like.  We were given the space to discuss and reimagine what it means to pursue a path that incorporated STEM, and we did this by first highlighting mixed female role models that created or found their ideal job by intersecting to unexpected fields, art is science. The “A” in “STEAM” (an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) was brought to light and brought to life; it was an illuminating experience for us all as we learned how our own creativity could translate into a path that also incorporated subjects like science and math. Our MSOE small group fully embraced both the artsy and nerdy side of ourselves, and the content creation and collaboration that ensued was pure gold.


Isabella's space-themed haiku and interactive "Adopt-a-dog" story

Inspired by the endless creative pursuits introduce during Art x Science week, Isabella H. (above) challenges us to question the roots of our fears with her space-themed haiku (left) and also demonstrates just how persuasive she can be in her interactive story “Adopt-a-dog” designed using Scratch, a block-based visual programming language (right).

Brite participant Theresa R harnesses the power of storytelling

Theresa Reisel (above) harnesses the power of storytelling and delivers a dramatic performance in her original sketch "Echo in the Zoom Meeting” just before our virtual meeting with Munira Tayabji, visual effects supervisor at DreamWorks animation (left), and also dazzles us with her choreographed music video inspired by one of her favorite artists, Lindsey Stirling, the work of keynote speaker Yamilée Toussaint Beach, founder, and CEO of STEM From Dance (right).

One of the most valuable inclusions in the Brite program was the diverse lineup of female role models. With roles that afforded these women opportunities to travel in outer space, to traverse active volcanoes, to study in great depth the link between humans, bats, and infectious diseases, to build STEAM and literacy programs that broaden our perspective and heal our world through education, and so many more, the quality and breadth of knowledge and wisdom freely and lovingly shared was reason enough to participate in Brite. Some speakers even took the cause a step further and extended contact information and future internship opportunities to our students to keep the conversation and interest alive. The amount of effortless exchange between keynote speakers and students was a testament to the influence a single person can have on the lives of others. This was STEM agency at its best.

Screengrabs from Amanda's Sullivan's BriteTalk

Keynote speaker Dr. Amanda Sullivan (screengrabs above), author of “Breaking the STEM Stereotype: Reaching Girls in Early Childhood” whose researcher focuses on the impacts of technologies on young children, explains how important play is in the learning process and how this idea impassions her to develop fun, new educational models and technologies (left), and Dorothy Tovar, a bat virologist from Stanford University, shows how trusting and believing in yourself allows you to pursue what you love and opens up exciting, unexpected opportunities (right).

 As the final days of camp crept up, it was obvious that our group happily found comfort from the isolation of quarantine in one other’s company. Considering the length of time these early teens have been in home-isolation due to business and school closures, program and event cancelations, virtual self-learning and other forms of social distancing, one of the key ingredients to our small group success was to make joy the “work” and not the end result. I’m reminded of our time with Dr. Amanda Sullivan, one of our keynote speakers. In her presentation, she shared a quote typically attributed to Plato that reads, “You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a lifetime of conversation.” Uninhibited play released us. It was the ease, the laughter, the freedom to come and go and do only those things that sparked interest or served as a platform to express our authentic selves that kept us coming back for more.

Brite girl, Annie L using the Brite Edmodo Platform home page

Brite may be over but the connections made during camp live on as we see Annie L. utilizing the MSOE small group page on Edmodo to organize fellow campers for a summer film project (left and middle) and Ariana Baez Arenas forming a post-camp Google Meet group (right).

Key Takeaways:

1. The Brite program offers an impressive lineup of accomplished female speakers who lead, inspire and engage participants in eye-opening conversations about the unexpected opportunities in STE(A)M. The Q&A sessions are always a hit!

2. The Brite program helped build a bridge between art and science that captured everyone’s imagination and left a lasting impression.

3. You can directly follow the robust Educator’s Guide or you can go “off-script” to create an entirely new experience – there’s no wrong way.

4. Play can be a powerful tool. Try releasing expectations, be authentic and go with the flow.

The WE Energies STEM Center of MSOE wants to thank the National Girls Collaborative Project and The Hello Studios for your dedication to empowering the next generation of female voices, and we are honored that you have invited us to be a part of your mission for change. We also want to thank this year’s REU Volunteers Megan C., Katya K., Muskan K., Ken'Triana M., and Kaitlyn Y. for the huge part these young women played in making Brite 2021 at MSOE at great success. Stay connected, support one another, and keep pushing forward, ladies!

MSOE Logo

 

 

Jessica M. Hernandez is currently working on her final year of a bachelor’s degree program in Electrical Engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), she values laughter and beautifully designed spaces, and can be found working at the WE Energies STEM Center at MSOE as a student employee.

Janna Meyer-Steinhorst is a Senior Actuarial Science student at MSOE and works as a Summer STEM Program Assistant at the WE Energies STEM Center at MSOE.  Click here to learn about our mission at the WE Energies STEM Center at MSOE!