Women make up half of the nation’s college-educated workforce, but that’s not the case in STEM fields. In computer science, physical science, mathematics and engineering fields, women are less than a third of all workers. That gap has inspired programs like Eureka!, which encourages young women to go into STEM-related fields.
Massachusetts State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, says too many people see Rosie the Riveter as a relic.
“War was going on,” Farley-Bouvier says. “And so even, gasp, married women were working as scientists in the 1940s, and you know they were capable scientists that contributed to economic development and the war effort, and they were very much needed. And after the war when the men came home, the men needed the jobs, and so the women were told they had to go home. And then we had this idea that women weren’t really cut out for math and science, and somehow that got into our collective psyche.”
The struggle, Farley-Bouvier says, is changing that culture and closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields.
The national Girls Inc. Eureka! program hopes to do just that, and now it’s in Berkshire County. The five-year program guides middle school girls into the STEM career path up until college.
The program is being aimed at helping low-income people, a group the Girls Inc. location at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield already serves.
“59 percent of our girls identify as a minority. 44 percent came from a household whose annual income is less than $25,000 a year. 40 percent of our girls live with single parents and a shocking 12 percent live with neither parent,” Kelly Marion says.
Community center CEO Kelly Marion says Eureka! will foster opportunities, resources and support to young girls.
“Our goal is to add new cohorts, eventually having 100 girls participating annually in a five-year cycle,” Marion says.
The program costs $50,000 a year. Half of the funds are already covered by a match grant from Avangrid Foundation and its subsidiary Berkshire Gas.
During the first two years, students will go to summer camps at partner institutions, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Berkshire Community College. There they’ll be exposed to STEM-related experiments and programs, as well as leadership and sports.
In partnership with the Berkshire County Regional Employment board, sophomore and junior girls will be given paid internships with local companies before their final year of college prep.
BCC Dean of Academic Affairs, Business, Science, Mathematics and Technology Division Charles Kaminski says programs like this can broaden girls’ horizons.
“That catalyst that brings them to this realization that they can really pursue a field in STEM that they want to do and have a passion for, not just what they feel is expected of them based on their gender,” Kaminski says.
MCLA Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Adrienne Wooters says she hears girls say:
“I don’t see myself there, that’s what guys do,” Wooters says, “and that certainly my image when I was a kid.”
Wooters, now a physicist, is a member of the Berkshire STEM Pipeline, a consortium between area colleges, school districts and non-profits to encourage students to go into STEM fields.
Annie Heitman is the Northeast regional director at Girls Inc., which has 1,400 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Heitman says Eureka! was created in 1987 at Brooklyn College, and was piloted around the country at five locations in 1992 with funds from the National Science Foundation.
"It was designed to help girlsdevelop leadership and career skills and was targeted to girls of color, living in the inner city, many of whom were econ omically disadvantaged," Heitman says.
It was further expanded in 2010 by the Clinton Global Initiative. The location in the Berkshires is the 19th Girls Inc. affiliate to run Eureka!. It’s already in Holyoke, Worcester, Albany, and Schenectady.
Marion says the Pittsfield program will start next year with 20 girls.
“No girl will be charged a fee,” Marion says, “so the cost burden to a girl, to their family is removed, making participation a reality.”
Until then, Girls Inc. is in search for its first “Eurekans.”
Application information can be found here.