Think about it… A world in which girls break free from generational paradigms that tell them they are not good at math and science. A world in which young women passionately pursue university degrees in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM). A world in which women drive innovation and excel in STEAM careers.
In January 2022, the State Department partnered with Girl Up, Intel, and Caterpillar Foundation to help create that world, bridging gender gaps to spark curiosity and inspire more than 150 young women to pursue their passion for STEAM.
During the virtual Women in Science (WiSci) Central America STEAM Camp, 139 high school girls from underserved communities, and 14 university students from the United States, Costa Rica, and Panama engaged in a unique opportunity to become immersed in STEAM, while also learning about self-discipline, mentorship, leadership, teamwork and – maybe most importantly – each other.
This has been one of the best weeks of my life.WiSci Program Participant
“The U.S. Department of State, together with our partners, knows that empowering girls today will lead to a stronger, smarter, and safer world in the future,” said Under Secretary Jose W. Fernandez. “All girls around the world have the potential to be change makers, but not without opportunities to hone their talents and learn new skills. And WiSci is one way State bolsters that existing talent.”
Over six days, the young women connected virtually and engaged in fun real-life challenges designed to spark innovative thinking. With generous support from Intel, they used tablets and hands-on toolkits to practice a range of STEAM skills such as design thinking, prototyping, circuitry, soldering, probability curves, and iteration. They also joined a series of guided discussions, which strengthened their leadership skills, resilience, collaboration, empathy, communication, ability to embrace mistakes, and much more.
As soon as the camp started, an immediate sense of community sprang up in the WhatsApp groups created especially for the girls by their support teams behind the scenes. These young teenage girls, scattered across three countries, who generally have fewer opportunities to participate in extracurricular programs, had never met before the camp. Yet only a few hours later they were cheering, applauding their peers’ successes, and, unquestionably, building a community that knows no national boundaries.
One of the most exciting moments for campers and counselors alike was the panel discussion of women who believed in their own talents and overcame many obstacles on their path to successful careers in science. The panelists modeled excellence and success, paving the way for younger generations who aspire to work in STEAM fields where women remain underrepresented. “We need more educational spaces like this one,” said another camper midway through the program.
She is right. We hope more public-private partnerships such as this one will give more talented young women around the globe the necessary confidence and tools to take a giant leap to seek better opportunities for themselves, while positively impacting their families, their communities, and women around the world.
About the Author: Gabriela Bolanos serves as the Experiential Learning Coordinator for the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose, Costa Rica.