Being a shy kid, I often struggled to strike conversations and interact with others who shared my interests. In my favorite classes I often felt too intimidated to speak up and share my ideas. I remember my mom would encourage me to attend fun STEM events, like computer science workshops or life science presentations. Learning how to code with Python, and watching hydrogen peroxide react with catalysts to make "elephant's toothpaste" really fascinated me, but I struggled to break out of my shell. Not only was I terrified of speaking in public, I also was afraid of being laughed at if I was incorrect. I was holding myself back throughout elementary and middle school and it affected how I implemented new ideas and concepts. I remember being the only girl in a computer science class, and I started feeling drowned out by boys who were much more confident and vocal than me. Being one of only a few girls on my math team in middle school was somewhat empowering, because I felt that I was able to represent a minority in that field. But it still wasn't the same as sharing that experience with many other dedicated, smart girls.
As I entered high school, I slowly gained confidence. But I felt that I had lost so much time and so many opportunities because of my shyness. I really wished that there were events where I could learn with girls my age, so I wouldn't feel so stressed about being judged or looked down upon. I was grateful when Crystal introduced me to AGSS, not just as a participant, but as a volunteer. Seeing how interactive the workshop was, and how enthusiastic the girls were, I was immediately connected with their eagerness to learn. I was simply happy that they had the opportunity to learn in such a supportive and encouraging environment. This prompted my determination to become more involved so that I could play a bigger role in helping these girls discover what they really love, or give them a fun experience - whether or not they plan to pursue STEM in the future. The concept of learning in an all-girls environment isn’t to be exclusive or to teach girls that they can’t work with boys. The all-girls environment fosters their curiosity in a safe and open environment, while teaching them the confidence they would need outside AGSS and outside their classroom. Learning alongside girls who are interested in similar things teaches them how to be more assertive and collaborative. The confidence they build up allows girls to stand up for what they believe in and prevents them from holding themselves back in industries where women are still considered a minority. Confidence is more than just standing up for yourself, it builds a strong and resilient personality, which is so important for young girls today. Learning in such an environment, girls grow assured that they can do anything when they put their minds to it, no matter if they are one of two girls in the room or one of 100.
Fighting the under representation of women in STEM is not easy, especially during times like this, when every day is filled with so much uncertainty and anxiety. But it is crucial to us as an organization and to me as a girl in STEM that girls are given that same opportunity to learn and explore together, in different circumstances or situations. While we miss seeing all the smiling faces and excited team chatter from our trivia and Jeopardy games in person, we still wanted to somehow give everyone the same collaborative and supportive learning experience online. There will undoubtedly be challenges with Zoom workshops, but we will all get to learn from them together - from a volunteer and participant alike. Who knows, maybe 10 years from now these girls will work to help fight pandemics like what they had gone through with COVID-19, and will find ways to help keep people safe and healthy :)