All Girls STEM Society offers fun, supportive learning opportunities in La Jolla

As part of the national All Girls STEM Society (AGSS), a group of Bishop’s School students are doing their part to encourage young girls to get — and stay — involved with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning. The group hosts 12-17 free STEM workshops across San Diego libraries, festivals, schools and youth groups to encourage the spirit of curiosity and innovation.

The All Girls STEM Society has chapters in 25 school districts and more than 2,000 participants, but The Bishop’s School has one of the larger chapters. “Our mission is to provide a safe and encouraging platform to have hands-on experiences in STEM. We want to inspire them to pursue this field because a lot of girls are discouraged at a young age,” said founding member Veronica Tang.

AGSS research reports women make up only 25 percent of the workforce in computer, mathematics and science fields. To familiarize girls with these fields, the team produces age-appropriate, fun events. Evidenced by nicknames, inside jokes and the occasional jabbing, the team has fun being a part of the self-proclaimed “nerd community” and creating the workshops.

“It’s not just sit down, do math, check if it’s right and move on. We turn it into games with prizes,” said Sahil Malhotra, one of the male volunteers in the group (yes, guys are allowed to volunteer, but the team itself is all girls).

For example, a recent math tournament featured an egg-relay-race. “We took those plastic Easter eggs, and filled each one with a math equation and set up stations,” Veronica said. “The girls would have to run to a station with an egg on a spoon, open the egg, solve the equation as a team, and then get another egg on a spoon and go to the next station.”

When it comes to robotics workshops, Sahil said, “We have these miniature robots that can be programmed to move in a certain direction. To make it more interesting and age appropriate, we put a pen on it, you can program the robot to draw shapes. So we would put down paper and have them program the robot to draw something and let them do it. If I had that option available when I was a kid, I would do that all day.”

He added that robotics is a “pretty male dominated field,” to which another team-member joked “technology in general (is male dominated)” and another quipped, “STEM in general!” At which laughter erupted.

As for why these students are so committed, for most, it’s personal.

“I am a woman in STEM. I’ve always like math and then in middle school I joined my school’s Math Counts team and I’ve been to other math events,” said Crystal Wang. “As I got older and kept going, I saw the number of girls dwindling. I didn’t know where to sit or how to act. I felt like people were looking at me. I didn’t want to see that happen to other girls.”

Veronica added the joke with girls in math is that math tournaments are the only places in which the girl’s restroom line is shorter than the boy’s restroom.

Sahil’s motivation, he said, is his mother. “She was born in India … and she was a computer science teacher in India. When she moved here, she had to stop teaching because she didn’t have the right credentials. I’ve always been miffed about that. She moved on and started a new career, but I don’t want to see anyone else’s passion torn away from them.”

William Tien shares a similar sentiment. “I love science and by the age of 5, I was reading my sister’s encyclopedias. In high school, I learned there were girls who were not encouraged to partake in science like I was. I wanted to help those people.”

The team hasn’t scheduled a local event, but has hosted math workshops at La Jolla Riford Library and would like to return.

To learn more, visit allgirlsstemsociety.org

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