Club hopes to generate women scientists

March 16, 2012
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Volunteers working with the Science Club for Girls (SCFG) at the Curley School hope that the next generation of scientists and engineers will include a lot more women.

SCFG is a nonprofit collection of educational programs for girls that encourages them in the fields of science and engineering and can include topics as diverse as the oceans, cancer and rocket science. Women teach all the classes. The Curley hosts one of SCFG’s programs.

“We send a message that science, engineering, technology and mathematics are not just for geniuses, only for girls who are ‘A’ students, or only for those who can afford to go to paid programs,” SCFG Executive Director Connie Chow said.

“Clearly, the more we can get young people, and especially young ladies, interested and excited about science, the better. It’s critical to build that interest and excitement at a young age,” said Curley Principal Jeffrey Slater. “We’re fortunate to have such great partners in our after school program to support our work.”

SCFG has programs for girls of every age, from kindergarteners to high school seniors and beyond, including an alumni program for young women who graduate from the program. Annually, SCFG serves 1,000 girls across its program sites, including the Curley School, SCFG high school programs coordinator Meghna Marjadi said.

Each SCFG program has a curriculum for the season, and each week’s session focuses on an aspect of that topic.

“The emphasis is always on hands-on, engaging activities that lead the girls to ask and answer questions for themselves,” Northeastern University professor and SCFG supervisor Gail Begley said.

“The best part is probably watching the girls’ eyes light up when they are engrossed in a science experiment, whether it is explaining how tornadoes work to second graders, dissecting a fish head to understand its anatomy, or shooting off a rocket they built…This is when they start see themselves as scientists,” Marjadi said.

“It’s heartbreaking to me to encounter girls of very young ages, younger than middle school, who are already convinced they’re ‘not good’ at math and science,” Curley SCFG volunteer Caroline Herndon said. Having different perspectives from both sexes “is the best way that we can ensure progress,” she said.

SCFG previously had a collaboration with Yawkey Boys and Girls Club to run semester programs and vacation week programs, but was forced to discontinue it because of funding.

“It was a great collaboration and we’d love to include more kids,” Chow said.

Marjadi, Chow and Begley agreed that the most rewarding part of working with SCFG is witnessing the girls progress during the program.

“I love almost every part of my job, but my favorite part is watching the girls grow. Over the semester, the teens I work with change. They become better leaders. They become more confident,” Marjadi said.

“Once girls see that science and engineering are everywhere, they engage with their surroundings differently. It’s almost as if they now have a secret pair of glasses they use to see the world and know that simple tools can be used to interrogate the world,” Chow said.

SCFG has programs in Boston, Cambridge, Lawrence, Newton, and in Ghana. Applications are available online. After-school programs are free of change, though donations are encouraged.

Information on SCFG is available at scienceclubforgirls.org. Applications for the fall programs will be available in September.