This Chicago Mom Turned Her Daughter’s Love Of Science Into A Thriving Program For Teen Girls

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It’s no secret that we’re a platform dedicated to promoting female STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) initiatives. These four industries are traditionally known as male-dominated arenas, but with figures showing there are more jobs than people to fill them, it is clear gender barriers must be broken down.

Women make up half the workforce in the US today, but represent only 24% of STEM careers. CNN Money reports that STEM jobs are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs, and the U.S. is simply not producing enough candidates to fill them. Only 16% of high school seniors are interested in pursuing STEM careers, according to the Department of Education.

Experts say there is a decline in women graduation college with computing degrees, and they believe the interest in all STEM jobs must start as young as possible, in Kindergarten even. There is a concerted effort to engage young girls in STEM initiatives, with Google’s Made With Code, Reshma Saujani’s Girls Who Code, and Kimberly Bryant’s Black Girls Code programs being prominent programs in the US.

But where there needs to be particular focus in the drive to engage women and girls, is among minorities. They already have less access to initiatives which makes minorities sorely underrepresented in STEM. Of all engineers, only 14% are women, and 5% are African American. One of the solutions, says Brittney Grimes at Stemjobs.com, is to engage minority children (which includes racial minorities as well as those from a lower socio-economic situation) in programs specifically geared toward them, in an attempt to even the playing field.

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One woman who is certainly doing this in her community, is entrepreneur and mother Jackie Lomax. Based out of Chicago, Jackie is the founder of Girls 4 Science, a non-profit organization that addresses the lack of accessible quality science programs for female youth ages 10-18 in the Chicago area. They believe science exposure and increased scientific literacy will equip young women to confidently pursue STEM studies and careers.

We spoke with the badass Jackie about the impetus to create this program, and the results she has seen so far since launching it in 2009.

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Jackie tell us first about your daughter, where did her love of science come from?

My daughter has always loved science. As a child I witness her curiosity in terms of the questions that she would ask me, where, in most cases, those questions usually ended with more questions. I began to notice, through my daughter and her friends, that she was not the only girl looking for an outlet to explore science. As a parent I felt it was my responsibility to take her and other girls’ scientific ambition to a whole new level

Girls 4 Science exists in order to open new doors for young Chicago women who have been discouraged from fields because they have not been given the opportunity to learn. I have neither the background nor training to give my daughter the answers to science questions. Instead, I established an organization with the assistance of talented industry trailblazers and like-minded thinkers who volunteer their time to share their knowledge with our girls.

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Tell us about your career background and your experience with STEM industries?

My background is in business and journalism, but most importantly I am a mother. After discovering the lack of opportunities for my daughter to participate in STEM, I was exposed to many new ideas about how important this field really is. My experience with STEM extends to number one being a consumer and number two showing my family its practical daily use in all aspects of their lives.

What steps did you take to create Girls 4 Science and create the 6 week course?

The Girls 4 Science 6 week quarterly modules were resulted by surveying female Chicago students about their interests in STEM fields and science as a whole. From the results, a group of volunteers worked to create themed laboratory sessions and field trips. In our current program, volunteer mentors assist with facilitating the program and act as subject matter experts.

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Since 2009 you have seen more than 500 girls come through your program, how does this make you feel?

When I look back at how far the program has come and watch our girls turn into tomorrow’s leaders, I feel a great sense of pride. The pride is not in me, but in the participants and the mentors who make Girls 4 Science an influential part of breaking down gender stereotypes in the field. Most girls, who enter into our program, decide to major in STEM related fields in college, and find a career path in a field that was or is primarily men. My daughter will be graduating this year and she is planning to major in biology with the hope of someday becoming a doctor. Girls 4 Science as a whole, means more than just a STEM education, it means positive influences to show that girls can do anything they set their mind to.

In terms of STEM graduates, women in some cases outnumber men, but in the workforce is where the real disparity happens. How do you hope organizations like yours will close the gap?

We must first understand, science is the backbone of our society. Every day, in the field of science, we are making progress in fields of physics, engineering, medicine, technology and countless others disciplines. My primary focus has been the advancement of women in these disciplines. The real reason why Girls 4 Science exists is to introduce science to those young women to don’t have the opportunity to explore science in the traditional high school experiences.

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There is a huge focus on getting girls interested in STEM, with organizations like yours as well as Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code and initiatives from Google. What impact do you foresee this having on the next generation of STEM workforce participants?

I think this impact has a great forecast to “reverse the curse” by including more diverse talent in STEM fields. The economy will be more robust with improved earning potential for families. Girl 4 Science aims to introduce new ideas to females who have the potential to become leaders in the work place.

What advice would you give to other parents who are struggling to get their girls interested in STEM subjects?

Mentorship has made a huge difference in my professional and personal life because it has coached me on areas of improvement. Parents should expose their children to positive mentors who can guide them during their careers to have a successful future. Girls 4 Science strongly encourages parent participation and we work to engage them as volunteers in our Saturday Science Academy.

However at home, I recommend parents should talk to their daughters and encourage them at the same time engage at home science projects that both parent and child can work on. Then, talk with mentors to discover ways you can be involved as a parent, whether it is taking your child to a museum or reading a certain book together. When parents understand the importance of what their child is learning, children can thrive.

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Your organization focuses mainly on minorities, why is this?

We are advocates for females 10-18 years of age who may lack the exposure due to financial challenges to go to space camp, dissect an animal’s organ, create hand soap, go on a college tour and other activities that require large financial expectations. Girls 4 Science is dedicated to molding futures for Chicago individuals who otherwise would not be exposed to these opportunities.

Who are your STEM role models?

Female leaders are the foundation of the future, and Girls 4 Science has many positive role models that serve as inspiration to a variety of generations. My personal STEM role model is Linda McGill Boasmond, the first female African American to own and operate her own chemical manufacturing plant, Chicago-based Cedar Concepts Corporation. Finding women who are breaking down barriers is inspiring motivation for a program like Girls 4 Science. Linda, a supporter of the program, has shown young women that determination and belief in yourself are the keys to future success.

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If you want to know more about Girls 4 Science and find out how to enroll your daughter in one of their programs, click here. If you don’t live in the Chicago area but believe in Jackie’s mission, you can be part of it by donating to the organization to ensure more girls get opportunities in science.

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