Eureka program shows young girls the benefit of careers in STEM

8th graders Ximena Villa of White Station Middle School and Adysun Jones of Kate Bond Middle School studied STEM lessons with the help of facilitator Rahni Stuwart during Eureka Summer Camp at the Union Avenue Campus

Eighth-graders Ximena Villa of White Station Middle School and Adysun Jones of Kate Bond Middle School studied STEM lessons with the help of facilitator Rahni Stuwart during Eureka Summer Camp at the Union Avenue Campus.

Snakes. Solving an art heist using forensic science. DNA models made out of candy. A contest to see who could build the tallest bridge, maze, or tower using common household products. Biology classes for college credit. And a trip to the Medical District to learn about careers in health sciences. Those were just a few of the activities Southwest helped facilitate this summer through an ongoing partnership with Girls Inc. of Memphis.

This year marked the fifth year that Southwest has partnered with the youth development agency as part of their Eureka Summer Camp Program, but was the first time the program was held on the Union Avenue Campus. Past camps were held at the Maxine A. Smith Center. Eureka is a five-year program designed to inspire girls ages 12 to 18 to pursue academic and career interests in science, technology, engineering and math or STEM related fields. Girls who are accepted into the program start as a cohort of about 30 students in the eighth grade and commit to the program through high school. Students receive hands-on, real world experience in career fields in technology, science, biology, engineering, architecture, health care, law, finance, media, and public service. They also experience an internship in a field of their choice, and take dual enrollment courses taught by Southwest instructors that count toward college credit.

Britnee McKinney, Eureka assistant coordinator with Girls Inc. of Memphis, said the program helps the girls make meaningful connections between school, community, and work. “Our mission is for all of our girls to be strong, smart, and bold,” McKinney said. “Strong physically and mentally; smart in academics and enrichment; and bold and independent in life skills.” McKinney said camp attendees meet every week day and that faculty and staff from different areas of the College provide teaching and learning sessions for the girls. “It’s all day long,” McKinney said. “But you get a well-rounded experience. And it is great for making friends, networking, interactive activities, and relationship building.”

This year’s summer camp was heavy on the health sciences side of STEM. The girls took field trips to Southern College of Optometry, Baptist Memorial Hospital, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where they saw nurses perform a variety of job tasks. “They saw a lot of outside people working at places like the college of optometry, UT, and just health sciences in general,” said Eureka Specialist Shannon McCranie.

Rahni Stuart, a graduate of the Eureka program who now works as a program facilitator, said the students engaged in a variety of STEM activities. They completed a forensics lesson where the girls had to identify the suspects in an art heist by comparing fingerprints, hair samples, and other evidence. Students also learned about DNA and RNA and made models using Twizzlers, gum drops, and toothpicks. They also had a competition to see who could build the tallest bridge or tower. Her favorite lesson though, was the one about herpetology. Students learned about and held a King snake, a Ball Python, and a turtle. Stuart said the python unraveled for the one student who ironically is afraid of snakes. “Ball Pythons ball up when they get scared,” Stuart said. “She was the only one the snake was comfortable enough to unravel.” Stuart, a student at the University of Houston where she is a marketing major, added that studying STEM can lead to a wide range of career opportunities – and not all of them have to be in science. “What I found is that STEM is very broad,” Stuart said. “A lot of times we get locked into thinking that you have to do one of those careers. But the value of STEM is that you can align yourself with a STEM company in other fields. For example, you can be a lawyer with Microsoft.”

Morgan McClain, a 9th grade student at Germantown High School, works on building a maze using various household products. She enjoyed the STEM classes and wants to someday be a dermatologist.

Morgan McClain, a ninth-grade student at Germantown High School, works on building a maze using various household products. She enjoyed the STEM classes and wants to someday be a dermatologist.

Medi Guto, a 9th-grader at Bartlett High School said she enjoyed the field trip to Baptist Memorial Hospital the best. She learned how to draw blood and put a feeding tube down the throat of a training mannequin. “I really liked the program at Baptist,” Guto said. “It was pretty fun. They introduced us to a lot of different fields.” Guto said seeing how the hospital runs made her excited her to be a doctor.

Dr. Electa Park, a Southwest assistant professor of natural sciences who taught biology to the eleventh grade students, said the Eureka program is a great recruiting event for the college. “We hold it on our campus and the girls are introduced to new fields and exposed to a college environment,” Park said. Park added that exposing young girls – especially girls of color – to STEM is very important because women are very under-represented in the science and engineering fields. “There are more in the science fields,” Park said. “But in technology, engineering, and math, women make up very small percentages of the workforce. So this kind of program helps broaden their horizons and shows them they really can go in to these fields and be successful.”

McKinney said the partnership between Southwest and Girls Inc. is “A-mazing.” About half of the students who participate go on to enroll in classes at Southwest. “Our girls get to be on a college campus and see what it is like to be in college and what it means to have a real professor teach a session,” McKinney said. “It’s a totally different dynamic. The faculty and Dr. Electa Park is great. I just love the customer service here. It is very warm, very welcoming, and we are very grateful. I have appreciated everyone I have encountered from Southwest.”