NASA Introduces G.I.R.L.S.: Woman to Woman Online Mentoring for Lucky, Science Interested Tweens
she blinded me with science
NASA’s G.I.R.L.S. initiative is so new they haven’t even really finished designing their homepage. But GeekMom was already on it, and getting the low down on the brand new five-week summer program that will connect girls with their own personal mentor, a woman working at NASA, from Mamta Patel Nagaraja, NASA official herself.
Nagaraja talks about the motivation behind G.I.R.L.S., which stands for Giving Initiative and Relevance to Learning Science:
We fully believe that the nation’s future largely depends on scientists, engineers, and technologists. Too many of the maladies that threaten the human race require the minds and resources of these professions. Moreover, many of these issues have triumphed for years, such as cancer. STEM careers are largely dominated by men, with only 25% of STEM jobs and related higher education degrees attributed to women. This alone is not a concern–men are smart and do a phenomenal job in these fields. Our goal is not to rah-rah women or in any way express that women are “better.” We simply believe that to address the issues facing the human population is a feat too great for just a small subset of our smartest people. We must tap into every market available. That means men and women, of the most diverse brains possible. It is the union of men and women working together that will win the war on cancer or find alternative fuels or propel us to Mars.
NASA is hoping to make G.I.R.L.S. is available to 15-20 American girls in grades five through eight. All that’s required is access to the internet, either at home or a library, and access to a video chat program like Skype or Google Chat. Each young lady who makes it in will be paired with one female NASA employee, and vice versa. A five-week program of one-to-one mentoring will involve assignments from each of the STEM fields, where a student might “design an interstellar trip and discuss why she chose certain design specifications” or “design a robot hand or a mockup of the International Space Station from popsicle sticks, glue, and paper.” Mentees will hopefully stay in contact with their mentors after the end of the program, and thanks to a partnership with Girl Scouts of the USA and the Challenger Foundation (founded in 1986 with the mission of carrying a the legacy of science education in the spirit of the crew of the Challenger Space Shuttle), Girl Scout troops will get a chance to connect with Women@NASA for a group mentoring session.
Now, 15-20 girls and a few scout troops may not seem like much, but NASA is purposefully keeping the group for the program’s pilot year small. Whether or not the program has a future will depend entirely on how much demand for it is demonstrated, and, since G.I.R.L.S. is committed to keeping the mentor-student ratio at 1:1, the number of women available to be mentors. “Someday,” Nagaraja told GeekMom, “it would be our goal to mentor as many young girls that show interest by applying!”
For now, the number of applications received and mentors available (and a few other things) will determine how often the program is made available in the year (i.e., other than a summer session), or even if it ever happens again. Any interested little girl you know can send in an application essay online, starting in May with a deadline of June 15th, for the five week session starting in July. We wish luck to everybody involved, kids, mentors, and the program itself!
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