Club hopes to generate women scientists

March 9, 2012
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Some Northeastern University (NU) students and staff are hoping that, through their work with the Science Club for Girls (SCFG), the next generation of scientists and engineers will include a lot more women.

SCFG is a non-profit 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. NU 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.

“Our lives are incredibly dependent on science and technology. Economic success is highly linked to innovation in these areas, most of which are dominated by men. Science and technology jobs are among the highest-paid. We need a female perspective in there,” said high school programs coordinator Meghna Marjadi.

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 NU campus, Marjadi said.

Each SCFG program has a curriculum for the season, NU professor Gail Begley explained. 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,” 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.

Begley teaches a freshman course that requires NU students to participate in community-oriented teaching programs. SCFG is one of those programs. She is also the faculty advisor for the NU campus chapter of SCFG.

“[SCFG] gets the girls who participate excited about science and helps to build their confidence. For our students it is a wonderful way to give back to the community. And thinking about fun, engaging, age-appropriate ways to bring science to life helps our students to become better scientists, too,” Begley said.

NU has the first SCFG student organization and has been hosting a weekly science program since 2010. The NU chapter hosts clubs on campus and the girls come from surrounding communities like Mission Hill and Roxbury, Begley 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 in Mission Hill and beyond,” 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.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Marjadi was a NU graduate student. She works full time for SCFG as the High School Programs Fellow.