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STEM4Girls Program

At the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

STEM4Girls began at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2010 in association with the organization Greenlight for Girls. Our mission is to inspire girls from disadvantaged communities to explore careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) by presenting these subjects in an engaging and enjoyable manner. We aim to bridge the gender divide in STEM professions by reaching out to girls at a young age, with the intent to shape their understanding of science and the role of women in these careers. Through our events, we link girls with STEM role models and offer hands-on activities that enhance their abilities, inspiring them to visualize the limitless opportunities in STEM in their future. Research evidence paints a concerning picture: from 4th to 8th grade, girls' interest in science and math courses appears to wane, a trend that curtails their pursuit of STEM careers in later years. The US Department of Commerce data for 2015 underscore this concern: while women occupied 47% of all jobs in the country, a mere 24% of them held positions in STEM fields. The issue at hand is not simply one of numbers, but of equity and diversity. Drawing more girls into STEM is a pivotal step towards leveling the playing field in the workforce and ensuring a diversity of perspectives. We live in a world shared by men and women alike, and the challenges we face will be better addressed when approached from a multitude of viewpoints. It is at these pivotal years of 4th to 8th grade that we must capture their attention. Our approach is to give them an introduction to STEM through positive, empowering experiences, in environments such as our university campus where they can envision a future. We strive to instill in them the belief that they, as women, have every right and capacity to succeed in STEM fields, and that there is, indeed, a place for them in these careers. While imparting knowledge about STEM is crucial, our goal extends beyond that. We want these girls to walk away not only with newfound understanding but with the invigorating sense that they can thrive in this domain - that it's not only possible, but also exhilarating. Ultimately, while it would be rewarding to see these girls pursue STEM careers, our aspiration is broader: we wish for them to develop a deep and enduring passion for STEM.

STEM4Girls is a free, inclusive event aimed specifically at girls in grades 3-8 from the Greater New Bedford/Fall River region. Designed to foster their interest and engagement in STEM subjects, STEM4Girls has seen an impressive turnout, drawing over 200 young participants each year in recent times. The day commences with an inspiring keynote address by a professional woman from the STEM field, setting an empowering tone for the day. This presentation serves as a catalyst for the subsequent hands-on, STEM-themed workshops, designed to immerse attendees in hands-on, interactive learning. These workshops are the backbone of the event, facilitated by a cadre of expert volunteers whose diversity mirrors the vastness of the STEM field itself. Faculty and graduate students from UMassD's College of Engineering, College of Nursing & Health Sciences, School of Marine Science & Technology (SMAST), and STEM Education & Teacher Development department share their expertise. Simultaneously, teachers from local middle and high schools, as well as faculty from other universities and professionals from STEM-centric organizations, contribute to a rich tapestry of workshop experiences. Beyond these workshops, STEM4Girls offers additional unique experiences. In previous years, STEM4Girls has featured informative Q&A sessions with a panel of professional women in STEM and creative performances that fuse entertainment and education, including STEM-related skits performed by local students as well as professional entertainers. A special emphasis is placed on familiarizing the girls with a real-life academic environment. The attendees are given a tour of the UMassD campus classrooms and labs, adding depth to their perception of STEM education and careers. The campus experience is rounded off with a communal lunch at the Grove, where they partake in interactive demonstrations with high-tech tools like Photon robots and Ozobots, and meet Norbert, an Eastern Box turtle from the Lloyd Center for the Environment. The remarkable success of STEM4Girls is a testament to the collective effort of a community. The event owes its seamless execution to the unwavering support from over 60 volunteers, a diverse mix of UMass Dartmouth students, staff, and members of the local community. Their tireless contributions help make STEM4Girls not just an event, but a transformative experience for its young participants.

Michael Savaria leading a workshop at a UMassD STEM4Girls Day sponsored by the Kaput Center

Some of the highlights of the past keynote speakers

  • Dr. Angela Dorsey
  • NASA Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Dean Jean VanderGheynst
  • UMassD College of Engineering
  • Megan Winton, current PhD candidate at UMassD School of Marine Science & Technology and great white shark research at Atlantic Great White Shark Conservancy
  • Stefanie Milam, a Planetary Scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland who serves as the James Webb Space Telescope Deputy Project Scientist for Planetary Science

Some of the highlights of past workshops & presentations

  • Thermodynamics of Ice Cream
  • Scales in Astronomy
  • How do Seals Track their Prey Underwater
  • Design, Engineer, Make!: Makey Makey, Bristle Bot Challenge & Digital Bling
  • DNA Detective
  • BEAUTY (Cloud Based Computing)
  • Earrings from Fuses
  • Fruit DNA
  • Catapults
  • Plankton/Shellfish/Human Food Chain
  • Helicopters
  • Geodesic Domes
  • Robot Rubik's Cube
  • Mind-bending Physics Fun
  • Coastal Exploration
  • STEAM the Streets

Schools who have participated

  • New Bedford Public Schools
  • Fall River Public Schools
  • Our Sister School in New Bedford
  • Global Learning Charter School in New Bedford
  • Atlantis Charter School
  • Argosy Collegiate Charter Schools in Fall River

UMassD volunteer groups include

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Yaribel Matos measures out vanilla to flavor the homemade ice cream the students would make using their newly-acquired knowledge of thermodynamics. Photo courtesy: Morgan Beard, Dartmouth Week
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