Pettee Guerrero is the embodiment of a STEM Diva.
She has an infectious enthusiasm for both STEM learning and NIU that is on full display in her high-energy demonstrations. She can be seen on a regular basis both promoting STEM Outreach programs and proudly cheering on the Huskies across campus and on university social media.
Guerrero worries, however, that there will be too few women following in her footsteps if girls are not provided with the right learning environment when beginning to explore STEM subjects.
“It’s about creating an emotionally safe place where the girls can have fun while engaging in STEM investigations,” Guerrero said.
“The unfortunate stereotype out there is that scientists and engineers tend to be men. By embracing, and not shying away from the girl’s more feminine interests, we show these girls that the subject matter can relate to them just as much as it can to boys. We need to come up with opportunities for exploration and projects that focus on the things they care about.”
Hoping to help develop the next generation of women working in STEM fields, Guerrero has worked with her colleagues to develop STEM Divas, a unique new program designed specifically for girls ages 7 to 10. The Saturday classes hook girls with projects and investigations that might typically be avoided in co-ed groups, like creating earrings using 3D printer or programming wearable LED jewelry.
Making lip gloss, another STEM Divas activity, requires chemistry to melt and mix ingredients such as waxes, colors, and scents; technology to manage mixing and packaging; engineering to design process and products; and math to measure ingredients, multiply and divide quantities.
“Last week my favorite part was making the bracelets,” according to one young participant, jumping up and down with excitement as she reviewed with her mother all she had learned. “And this time my favorite part was making soap!”
Research shows that girls tend to retreat from involvement in STEM subjects around ages 11 to 13. The STEM Divas program seeks to inspire a commitment and understanding of STEM subject matter that can transcend the distractions of middle school, giving girls who participate a foundation for future success in all areas of their lives and careers.
STEM Divas is the latest in a large series of programs offered through the award-winning NIU Center for P-20 Engagement.
In addition to STEM Outreach classes, camps, and events designed for both boys and girls in a variety of age-ranges, the P-20 Center has developed and now oversees popular programs in many areas. The STEM Café, STEM Read, Economic Education and SmartSpace@NIU programs all aim to engage the community actively.
If response to the first two classes offered is any indication, the demand for female-oriented STEM programming is particularly strong. Each class sold out in just a few days, and STEM Outreach staff is working hard to develop and schedule additional programming that will give even more girls the chance to tinker, design, develop, and experiment.
NIU women students in STEM majors will continue to join the classes to act as mentors and role models for each girl, creating a welcoming and open environment where risk-taking is encouraged.
“The response to the first two classes has been amazing,” Guerrero said. “The interest is there and the girls are excited. Now it’s our job to continue developing these girls into the best kind of divas – proud, educated and capable STEM Divas!”
NIU STEM Outreach plans to increase the number of STEM Divas sessions in 2015 and is looking at extending programming to include middle school girls and a summer camp. For more information, contact Guerrero at (815) 753-0533 or firstname.lastname@example.org.