TAMPA – About eight years ago, Elaine Gibbs left her career as a chemist to teach high school science.
She was on a mission to empower girls by showing them men aren’t the only ones who can thrive as scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.
Today, 75 percent of the nation’s STEM professionals are men, according to Building Engineering and Science Talent, a public-private partnership dedicated to building a stronger, more diverse workforce. The breakdown is about the same in Gibbs’ chemistry class.
So now, Gibbs runs a STEM after-school enrichment program for girls at Middleton High School, one of the Hillsborough County school district’s STEM schools. There, students work on projects in STEM subject areas that interest them. Last year, the girls built a clock from scratch.
The recipient of a $2,000 grant from the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates, Middleton’s Girls Get I.T. program will add a mentoring component this year. The high school girls will spend time with girls who attend Ferrell Girls Preparatory Academy, a middle magnet school.
“We lose them in middle school,” Gibbs said. “We really need to bridge the gap. If the older girls can mentor them, they would want to continue on with STEM.”
In addition to the new mentoring piece, Ferrell received a $10,000 grant to introduce a program called VOICE (Victory Over Instability by Choosing Education) in its after-school enrichment sessions.
VOICE aims to recruit and encourage artistic kids who are interested in STEAM, which includes an “a” for art component, but have limited access to art and technology.
“That will go a long way in furthering the agenda we already have to let our girls understand, ‘you too can be in a STEM field,’ ” said Carla Sparks, Hillsborough’s supervisor of single-gender programs.
Franklin Boys Preparatory Academy also received a $10,000 grant from the foundation.
Ferrell and Franklin will put their grants toward STEAM initiatives in their after-school “academies.” The academies focus on topics including athletics and technology.
“We know that scientists and engineers cannot be successful if they’re not creative,” said Larry Plank, Hillsborough’s director of K-12 STEM education. “We don’t neglect the arts.”
The three grants were approved by the school board Tuesday. Teachers at each of the schools will meet this Tuesday to come up with lesson plans and the programs are scheduled to be begin in the schools on Oct. 22.
Amanda Sheets, lead teacher at Franklin and supervisor of the after-school programs, said a STEAM emphasis will add a layer of enrichment to what students are already doing.
“The enrichment is a nice extension to what we are doing with the boys during regular school hours, so (they) can make connections,” Sheets said. “The same with the girls’ school.”