By Allison Kamel:
Getting girls involved in math and science is a key part of today’s education, locally and throughout the U.S.
Much of those efforts have to do with instilling a new mode of thinking among female students. Educators have come to realize that girls, aside from simply being enrolled in math and science classes, need to understand that they have the potential to succeed, just like their male counterparts.
A program introduced this year at the Bellport High School is looking to do just that.
Women in Science Engineering (WISE) is run by Stony Brook University for high school students across the island.
It gives girls a more hands-on experience working in the math and science fields. Students enrolled in WISE are invited to the Stony Brook campus 20 times a year for three years. Stony Brook graduate students and faculty serve as mentors to the teenagers.
“It is important for [the students] to have mentors who look like them, so that they can say ‘it’s possible,” said Veronique Bailey, South Country School District’s STEM Director. “It’s not just guys. This is not what a scientist looks like. A scientist looks like you.”
There are currently 10 Bellport students participating in the 23-year-old program, which has invited eight schools to participate this year.
Rebekah Ofori, one of those students, said the opportunity to interact with “amazing and inspirational women in this field,” was a big factor in her deciding to enroll.
“I hope that this is an unforgettable experience that I will take with me throughout my life,” she said.
The girls were chosen based on strong math and science grades, since WISE focuses on applying knowledge students already have — rather than teaching concepts.
“We had dozens of girls that were qualified and interested, not to mention girls that maybe weren’t so strong in math and science,” said Bailey.
The 10 girls were chosen on a first-come, first-served basis after invitations were sent to those with qualifying grades.
Bailey has worked in the South Country school district for two years. Her main goal is to provide as many opportunities as possible for all students looking to work hands on in what’s called the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
The students in the WISE program are currently working on civil engineering projects, which include exploring ways to cleanse water and structure a building.
Through projects like bridge building, the girls use both real materials and computers.
“I have been thinking about becoming an environmental engineer and I believe the WISE Program will be a great experience for me,” said Chiara Scharpf, another WISE participant.
The large interest in WISE shows Bailey that there is a need for even more opportunities for her students to explore STEM more deeply. For Bailey, STEM is more than just “science, technology, engineering, math … it’s really just about looking at problems in the real world and solving them, using what you know to figure out a problem,” she said.
“By the end of the program … I hope that the information I gained will be of tremendous help not only in school, but also my outside life,” said Megan Berja, another WISE participant.
“If we don’t have girls or women at the table, then our interests are not being heard,” Bailey added. “It’s really important that our young ladies or underrepresented minorities are at the table to share their needs and come up with solutions that support all groups.”
About the author: Allison Kamel is a history adolescent education and journalism student at St. Joseph’s College. She lives in Smithtown and is the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper.
Top Photo: Prior WISE participants at Stony Brook University. (courtesy)