Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound—it’s CAPE-empowered middle school girls!
CAPE (Career and Pathway Expo) is an annual one-day event in April that encourages sixth through eighth grade girls in the Peninsula School District (PSD) to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM education).
Women are underrepresented in STEM careers and studies have shown that girls in their pre-teens and teens often move away from a path of science and math classes. Since these classes tend to lead to higher paying careers, leaving the path of STEM learning can impact these girls for a lifetime. Once these students get off the STEM path, it is difficult for them to get back on, so keeping young girls interested in science and math is crucial to them having opportunities in STEM careers.
“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” says Joy Giovanini, CAPE coordinator. “If someone doesn’t believe in themselves, that they’re not a math person or a science person, they end up eliminating some of the opportunities that would open future doors. It’s … really important to get in that window of time—elementary to middle school can make or break someone as far as shutting doors and not getting on the pathway to certain classes or clubs.”
How do we keep young girls involved in science and math? It’s CAPE to the rescue!
When Giovanini was teaching robotics, she noticed that many of the middle school girls she taught stopped taking STEM classes in high school. Those girls thought that science and math weren’t “cool” and that if their friends weren’t taking those classes they didn’t want to, either. She researched ways to keep girls on the STEM pathway and the result was CAPE.
“What came up over and over again, and what CAPE was built around, is that girls respond to being with other girls,” explains Giovanini. “We needed to make a safe space for girls to ‘geek out’ with other females their age. The whole thing was created around what works to keep middle school girls from closing doors to opportunities, especially in STEM.”
This year is the fourth year of CAPE. It is a day where 250 of the district’s middle school girls (around one-fifth of the middle school girls) from all four of the middle schools come together with high school student mentors, STEM teachers and volunteer community members in STEM careers to do hands-on learning and exploration. CAPE is meant to give girls hands-on experiences, opportunities to form bonds with other female students and to provide layers of support from a variety of mentors.
Keynote speakers set the tone for the day. Pilots, doctors and engineers are among the past keynote speakers who spoke about their careers and education. It’s important for girls to be able to identify with professionals in STEM careers.
“It’s imperative for them to have career mentors that they can relate to so that they can see themselves in those careers,” says Giovanini.
After the keynote address, the girls and their high school mentors head to an expo-style session where they can explore middle school science and math classes and clubs. The goal is for the girls to make connections with PSD middle school staff and get the students interested and involved in STEM opportunities. The girls have hands-on fun doing things like fingerprinting with forensics teachers and piloting underwater robots with a science teacher who leads a club.
The expo is primarily designed to get the girls interested and stay interested in STEM classes and clubs throughout their school career and beyond. Another goal is to connect the girls with other girls so that they have friends taking STEM classes with them.
“Even if you have just one other friend that’s a girl in that class of 30 people, connecting and having that kinship can make a big difference,” notes Giovanini.
After the expo, the girls head to three 30-minute hands-on career workshops on topics in engineering/technology, health science and animal sciences. These sessions are run by community volunteers including doctors, nurses, engineers, veterinarians, computer scientists, dentists and more. The volunteers lead the girls in activities such as doing an ultrasound on a pregnant woman, learning to do sutures using an orange, computer coding, construction/engineering and veterinary work. These sessions let the girls experience real-life STEM applications and build relationships with professionals who may just inspire them toward a career in math and science.
“It really does take just one person—one teacher, one mentor, one job shadowing to open up a pathway for someone,” says Giovanini.
We can all do our part to help young girls explore STEM learning. Encourage them to explore and tinker from an early age. Expose them to women in STEM careers in books, movies and real life. Encourage them to pursue STEM classes, clubs and hobbies. Let the young girls of our community know that they can do anything.
CAPE is always looking for community support. They need community volunteers (both women and men) in STEM-related careers to help out or run workshops. CAPE is sponsored by Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, Uptown Gig Harbor and Allovus, but they can always use monetary donations which help pay for STEM materials, event T-shirts, backpacks and other supplies. If you are interested in helping out, please contact Joy Giovanini at firstname.lastname@example.org.