Afterschool program encourages girls to stick with STEM

Some schools are experiencing a decline in the number of girls involved in science, technology, engineering and math once they enter middle school. How can they reverse this trend?

An afterschool program at Kinard Elementary School in Clover, S.C., may be a model.

Teachers at Kinard are passionate about keeping young girls involved in technical fields. So, when members of Catawba Nuclear Station’s Women in Nuclear chapter approached the school about partnering on an after-school program, it was a natural fit.  

Catawba Nuclear Station employees, April Seraphin and Abby Rumping, with the Duke STEAM Girls
Catawba Nuclear Station employees, April Seraphin and Abby Rumping, with the Duke STEAM Girls

Dubbed the “Duke STEAM Girls” by the inaugural members, the club offers fourth- and fifth-grade girls a chance to tackle science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) projects after class throughout the school year. Volunteers develop the activities and bring the supplies, but provide only the end goal; the students must work together to solve the problem.

“It’s been fascinating to watch them prepare their projects when given minimal instruction or guidance,” said Abby Rumping, a Senior Engineering Technologist in Transmission and co-lead for the program. The students stop every 10 minutes or so to discuss problems or obstacles that come up and share solutions.

Club activities are integrated with Kinard’s “The Leader in Me” program, in which all grades learn about and implement seven leadership habits. The STEAM club activities coupled with leadership habits are preparing students for jobs of the future – some that may not even exist yet.

“My personal goal for Duke STEAM Girls is to provide a creative and empowering environment for these young women,” said April Seraphin, an Engineering Technologist at Catawba Nuclear Station who helps lead the program with Rumping. “I had teachers and mentors that encouraged me to explore different studies that weren’t the social norm. I hope to have that same positive impact on these girls.” 

The club’s activities seem to be having the desired effect. Faculty at Kinard have commented that girls who normally do not speak out in class are having in-depth conversations with fellow club members. All the students are also enthusiastic to share their achievements with their fellow classmates.

The club fosters a positive environment for girls to work together and explore, but the activities are also engaging because they’re relevant to the students’ daily lives. For example, during one session, students were charged with creating a five-foot “pipeline” with two 90-degree turns out of paper and tape that would allow a ping pong ball to pass through it. The experiment led to a discussion of how power plants use pipes to transport water, steam and other materials in the process of making the electricity we use every day.

Rumping and Seraphin are currently working on a two-year syllabus of activities they can use with new classes of fourth- and fifth-graders each year. The challenge, says Seraphin, is creating activities that can be accomplished within an hour, the time allotted for club meetings each month. Ultimately, whichever educational challenges they choose, they will make it fun. “Duke STEAM Girls is my absolute favorite volunteer activity,” said Seraphin. “I have just as much fun as the girls do with the activities!”

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