AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to science, tech, engineering and math professionals, there is an obvious gender gap. That is why groups like the Girls Empowerment Network and Girlstart are working hard to change that.
Girlstart is one group that is working to keep young women interested in math and science.
"We at Girlstart are here to provide STEM education for girls. We want to be here for every girl," said Executive Director Tamara Hudgins.
Girlstart offers STEM programs year-round through their after school program, summer camps and annual conferences with a goal in mind – to keep interest in math and science through academic achievement and to ultimately plan for a STEM career.
"Girlstart girls go on to do much better in their science and math standardized tests, following our programs, but they are also more likely to stay on that advanced track for advanced math and science coursework at middle and then high school," Hudgins added.
The program also provides unique STEM events to include fun for the whole family. The goal is to meet girls where they are.
Girlstart serves girls from fourth through eighth grade. This is at a pivotal age when girls begin to doubt themselves and become more self-conscious of things as simple as raising their hands in class.
Hudgins said that they want the girls participating in the program, "to feel comfortable taking risks. By taking those risks, then we develop grit and persistence and that is really important for girls as they emerge to middle school."
As it turns out, there is another organization in town geared specifically towards building self-efficacy.
Dr. Sarah Miller-Fellows is the program evaluator at the Girls Empowerment Network, now known as GIRLS. She describes self-efficacy as "a belief in one's own ability."
At The Girls Empowerment Network, they work on building a girl's self-efficacy.
Dr. Miller-Fellows adds that "there is key research out now that identifies self-efficacy as a key step towards gender equity in STEM fields."
The Girls Empowerment Network provides a core set of programs for thousands of girls from third through 12th grade. Girl Connect is one of their programs that can be offered during or after school.
Ella is a fourth grader that has participated in the programs that GIRLS has to offer, including a summer camp.
“It is a camp for empowering girls,” she said.
At camp, girls participate in different activities that require interaction and problem-solving. These programs offer girls chances to succeed in things that are hard and they watch girls, just like them, succeed as well.
Dr. Miller-Fellows said both being successful and watching peers succeed is a great combination for building self-efficacy.
The results from these programs are often immediately seen by parents such as Ella's mom, Jennifer.
Jennifer said that Ella's confidence has grown immensely.
"The week she comes back from the day camp, she is almost like 10 feet tall,” Jennifer said. “It is a great way for girls to learn about themselves so that they can deal with the rest of the world a lot better."
If you need any more convincing that this program is a winner, Dr. Miller-Fellows said that you just have to "imagine a third grader starting to get skills in confident communication and being able to deal with her emotions and manage stress, that carries her throughout her entire life."
Girls are already unstoppable, they just need to believe it too.
Joining Girlstart or The Girls Empowerment Network is easy since they partner with a lot of Central Texas schools.
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