Author: Jessica Paul
Originally published Apr. 24, 2020.
Theresa Carlos is a junior from Middlesex County, New Jersey. She is the New Jersey chapter president for the nonprofit Girls STEMpowerment. Below she talks about the mission of the organization and her experiences that drive her passion for STEM.
Could you give a brief overview of the what the goals of Girls STEMpowerment are and the types of events the organization holds?
Girl STEMpowerment believes that we can help girls change their mindset about what it is they can do, and who they can be, thus showing them more options in the direction they want to go, whether in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) or other fields. We want to increase young girls’ interest in STEM through hands-on educational experiences which also help them develop creativity, cooperative learning, a critical mind and strong thinking skills, thus enabling them to discover new ideas and create new options. In order to accomplish this goal, we hold free workshops and events focused on STEM that are targeted at girls in grades 3–8 at locations throughout Middlesex County (New Jersey). Through these workshops, we hope to give girls an opportunity to learn more about the different subjects in STEM in an environment where they don’t feel constricted by gender stereotypes. In the past we have held workshops such as a strawberry DNA extraction lab and biomedical engineering. We also hold large events such as the All Girls Math Tournament.
Did you have a specific experience that jump-started your interest in science? If so, would you care to share?
As I was growing up, I participated in many programs and classes that helped develop my interest in STEM. One of the most memorable programs that I participated in was a summer program for girls designed to increase awareness about careers in STEM. After participating in several workshops and hands-on labs related to science and technology during the program, I became more and more interested in the subjects. Having an environment where I didn’t feel constricted by gender stereotypes, definitely made me feel more confident in my abilities. I remember doing my end of program presentation on a wearable device that could use transdermal patches to administer nutrients and vitamins for those with nutrient deficiencies. This program developed my interest in STEM, and more specifically, its application to the medical field.
What aspect of Girls STEMpowerment drew you to wanting to be the New Jersey chapter president?
I started teaching workshops about various STEM topics such as 3D printing, coding, and science at my local library in middle school to spread my passion for science and technology. After a while, I began to notice a gap in the number of girls who participated in STEM classes and programs in my community. I was motivated to found the New Jersey chapter of Girl STEMpowerment after seeing this issue. Having parents who work in the STEM field as well, I am grateful that I have parents who believed in my ability to succeed and encouraged me to attend STEM related programs, summer camps, and classes that developed my interests as a child. However, I understand that many girls had neither the opportunity nor support like I did at a young age. I wanted to start the New Jersey Chapter of Girl STEMpowerment to help mitigate the gender gap in STEM by providing girls with an opportunity to learn more about the careers in STEM and a platform of role models who they can look up to.
In today’s society, why do you think it is important to expose younger girls to STEM opportunities?
In today’s society, women are significantly underrepresented in science, technology, and mathematics (STEM) occupations. This issue of fewer women going into STEM is largely due to the lack of confidence girls develop at a young age because of gender stereotypes and male-dominated environments in the science and technology fields. These stereotypes are established during elementary school years and serve as the foundation on which their self-image is built as they grow older. I believe that it is important to expose younger girls to STEM opportunities to build their interest early on, when they have not yet been exposed to stereotypes. By doing this, we will be giving them the opportunity to develop their interest in the field and see if they are truly passionate about it.
What is the most meaningful interaction you have had working with one of the girls?
One of the best feelings I have experienced when working with the girls is seeing them excited and curious to learn more after participating in our workshops. For example, in our strawberry DNA extraction workshop, at first many of the girls were dismayed when they weren’t receiving any results. However, after many attempts and after some time, all of the girls successfully extracted the DNA. Seeing their faces glow up with excitement as they held up their DNA and watching them become more confident in their abilities was a rewarding and irreplaceable experience and is something that drives me to continue fighting this issue.
What influence do you hope Girls STEMpowerment and other similar organizations will have on the next generation?
I hope that Girl STEMpowerment and other similar organizations can show the next generation of girls that they are capable of succeeding in STEM or any other field they choose to pursue. I believe that by providing role models and opportunities in STEM, we will not only inspire young girls to consider STEM, but also inspire them to do the same and educate other girls about opportunities!