Girls Inc. STEM Program 'Eureka!' Welcoming Third Cohort
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Girls Inc. of the Berkshires has been empowering local girls with STEM skills through a program called "Eureka!" since 2018 and will welcome its third cohort this school year.
The five-year program encourages confidence, strength, and intelligence in its participants ranging from Grades 8 to 12 while directly connecting them with the sciences.
Girls begin in middle school and are guided into science, technology, engineering and math career paths throughout high school and eventually mentored for college.
"The idea of the program to engage girls in STEM fields in order to give them more drive to pursue STEM-related careers," said Abigail Allard, development and communications manager at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center.
"Looking at the Pittsfield school numbers is kind of why our CEO and our Girls Inc. Director Sarah Gillooly kind of thought this would be a good program for us because if you look at the Pittsfield Public School numbers for testing in regards to like the MCAS and any advanced testing for math and sciences, not only do we have significantly less girls taking these specific tests, but the rating of it isn't where, if you look at the rest of the state, we should be."
This year the girls will dive into graphic design, 3-D printing, drone engineering, and coding for robotic movement through a partnership with professional services network Price Waterhouse Coopers.
Over the summer, they collaborated with Pittsfield Community Television for 12 weeks to create public service announcement videos that will be shown across Berkshire County. This was funded by the state Department of Public Health.
The first two years of Eureka! are comprised of an intensive four-week program at Berkshire Community College emphasizing math, science, and technology experiences, personal/career development, and sports with programming continued into the school year.
From year three on, the girls are placed in paid STEM-related internships and job shadowing experiences to build experience and gain insight into their career aspirations.
"We're only going to take eighth graders for this upcoming cohort, which is our third cohort, but if we had 11th graders that wanted to do it, they'd be more than welcome to join the first or second cohort," Allard explained. "It's a rolling enrollment for all girls."
The program is free of charge and emphasizes helping children of low-income and minority families.
Partnerships in both funding and expertise are critical for the program. It draws talent from local educational institutions such as Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for STEM programming.
The girls attended BCC for a four-week intensive this summer and were immersed in an advanced college setting.
"They're actually at BCC for four weeks in a college setting at 13 and 14 years old, which is an opportunity that without this programming, they probably never would have had," Allard said.
"And they're working with professors, they're working with graduate students, and they're learning different things like this summer they did topology, biology, earth sciences, they did chemistry, and they're doing it in a way where it doesn't feel like a traditional classroom setting."
With its first cohort, the program spoke directly to the interests of many young girls by highlighting the science of cosmetics at Jane Iredale Cosmetics in Great Barrington. At the same time, this showed the girls that there are STEM careers in Berkshire County.
"You think it's a makeup company, but they didn't realize all the science, engineering technology, and math that goes into having an idea for a lipstick and making it happen," Allard said.
"And it's local, so that's a huge thing as well for this program is, we like for girls to see what's available not only in the world but what's available here in Pittsfield and in Berkshire County, with the idea that they do if they do decide to pursue higher education, they know that if they get a degree in one of the STEM-related fields, there's opportunity to come back."
During the school year, Eureka! is programmed for two to four hours a month while in the summer it is nearly full time.
The free program has served about 30 girls over the last three years, many of them coming from households with a median income of less than $25,000 or likely being first-generation college attendees.
At its start, it was reported that the program took about $50,000 a year to run.
Currently, its two biggest funders are Avangrid Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Berkshire Gas parent Avangrid, which provided a three-year grant of $60,000 upon the program's start and now gives it $20,000 each year, and the Josephine and Louise Crane Foundation, which matches another $20,000.
Last spring, it was awarded Community Preservation Act funding by the city to build a trail at the Girls Inc. Camp on Onota Lake.
The big thing that Eureka! encourages, Allard said, is resiliency and giving girls the tools to make healthy and capable decisions that will affect their future.
The program continued to support its members throughout the pandemic, keeping in touch with them virtually, checking in with them on schoolwork, and providing whatever support they need.
When schools returned to hybrid learning, it launched a program called "Get Real" that focused on self-empowerment, healthy sexuality, and healthy relationships.
"It was really essential for these girls to not only feel engaged with our program but also feel engaged with one another and have that connection again," Allard said.
She added that the goal of the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, the Girls Inc.'s flagship location in the Berkshires, has the overall goal of empowering all young people.
"I think the biggest part for us is just to be an organization that works with young people, the organization as a whole, we want to work with young people, to help them reach their full potential, and empower them to reach whatever goals they have and working with understanding and caring adults, so knowing that there are safe adults, there are safe places for these kids to go, it's really important to us," Allard concluded.
"I think those are our biggest takeaways from this program, and just making sure you're empowered to make decisions that will guide your life."
For more information or to get an application visit www.brighamcenter.org/eureka/ or email Sidney Hamilton at email@example.com.
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