Empowered and excited: “Girl Up!” returns with STEM opportunities for students

More than 100 elementary school students recently took part in an event aimed at engaging young girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. held its annual “Girl Up!” event on Friday evening at Columbus North High School. The school corporation described it on social media as “a free community event to develop BCSC girls in 5th and 6th grades to better understand non-traditional roles in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and see female role models and mentors in these career paths.”

According to curriculum specialist for K-6 STEM initiatives Davida Harden, 106 fifth- and sixth-grade girls attended the event, which is the fourth iteration since Girl Up began in 2017. Harden and UDL facilitator Corie Williams have been the co-organizers since 2018. The event was not held in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The Girl Up! event is always a fun and interactive evening for our students, our high school student mentors, our teachers, and our volunteers,” said Harden. “The evening is a high energy event where the girls leave feeling empowered and excited about futures available to them in STEM careers.”

During the event, students had the chance to interact with volunteers from the Columbus Robotics Club, which brought interactive displays. They were also able to participate in a “makerspace”, where they learned about making self-propelled rockets and catapults, as well as the physics behind these devices.

The girls were later divided into cohorts and participated in breakout sessions led by C4 facilitators. Sessions included agriculture, the biomedical field, construction, engineering, graphic design and welding. These subjects were integrated into different activities such as studying live animals, using science to solve a staged crime and welding metal sculptures to take home.

When asked why it’s important to give young girls more STEM opportunities, Harden pointed to “a gap in representation” when it comes to women in these professions.

According to an article from the United States Census Bureau, women grew from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019, but it is still a male-dominated field. Men made up 52% of the U.S. workforce and 73% of all STEM workers in 2019. There were also a number of gender pay gaps across STEM professions seen in that year’s data.

“As educators, we have a responsibility to help encourage young girls to overcome barriers, both spoken and silent, and develop their passions to pursue future education and careers in the areas of STEM,” Harden said.

Community partners for the event included BCSC, C4 Columbus Area Career Connection, Columbus Robotics, the Columbus Sunrise Rotary Club, Cummins, The Tony London Company, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation and Little Caesars. Harden added that were also over 100 volunteers, including BCSC staff and C4 student mentors.

“We are grateful that these institutions continue to support and value the empowerment of young girls in STEM-related studies,” she said. “As we empower our students in STEM, our community grows stronger, and our generous partners are a big part of that picture.”