Benignant STEM Innovation Foundation is an innovative non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased participation in post-secondary education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields by young women and girls from developing countries around the world of low socio-economic backgrounds.
Around the globe, particularly in developing countries, women lack opportunities to obtain the education that they so desperately need and deserve. Those that do attempt to gain access to educational resources often find themselves at significant risk. Cultural stigma, religious restrictions and oppressive laws keep women trapped in desperate poverty and ignorance, unable to obtain the education that might give them hope.
The Benignant STEM Innovation Foundation is determined to improve educational opportunities for girls and women in developing nations through STEM project. By creating innovative solutions that help women overcome barriers to education, we at BSI believe we can slowly begin to turn the tide that has for so long held back talented, energetic and intelligent young women; women who, we believe, will prove to be an incredible asset to their communities, to their nations and to their world.
Recently, we travelled to Guatemala as part of “The Young Eagle” STEM workshop. We chose Guatemala because during our research we learnt that Guatemala has one of the lowest percentages of girls enrolled in schools in Latin America. We wanted to bring a change to those numbers and more importantly we wanted to inspire those girls to choose advanced degree fields in STEM During the workshop, we used an effective and innovative STEM learning tool to simulate, motivate and inculcate interest in these young minds to pursue STEM The exercise included a hands-on team model-building project designed to teach girls how to build model rockets from kits.
We built two types of rockets in the class. The first kit they were provided with was a booster rocket system – the advanced NASA Space Launch System, or SLS. The SLS is the giant rocket which propels spacecraft from Earth to orbit and beyond. Next we built NASA’s Orion Crew Vehicle, the spacecraft that will actually carry astronauts, heavy equipment and fuel into space for longer space voyages and which will return the crews to Earth at the end of the mission. The Space Launch System and Orion Crew Vehicle are the next generation of NASA spacecraft that will eventually carry astronauts to the moon, to visit asteroids and comets and, finally, on to Mars.
When the workshop started, most of these girls had assumed the world had strict limits for them and many had dreams they could not hope to aspire to. Many of the girls started out not knowing that there was any sort of opportunity for them beyond the narrow confines set for them by poverty and the limited opportunities available to them.
I shared the story of my overcoming obstacles and achieving my dream set up them in high spirit. A book that authored called ” Escape Velocity”. I was gratified at the excitement many of the girls exhibited in response to this. This shows the power of a role model. Many of the girls were inspired that someone who had grown up in poverty like them had faced challenges and achieved her own goals. Before I left Guatemala, the girls wrote a note to me saying I am now their role model and that telling my story opened their minds to the possibilities available to them. Many expressed their determination to follow my example and achieve their own dreams as well. Please see below the wonderful note from the girls.
The girls were thrilled, but a more lasting consequence of our encounter we hope, is the planting of a seed in their minds. The workshops hopefully inspired and encouraged the girls to believe that they can do great things as well and overcome the obstacles ahead and gain an education in a STEM field; and earn an advanced degree and take up their places in exciting and lucrative careers. The desire and inspiration that this workshop was able to inculcate in them was truly heart warming. Knowing that, prior to the workshop, we took a pre-workshop survey to access their interest in STEM, not only did they not have interest in STEM but have no knowledge of what STEM is.
The experience demonstrated the effectiveness of the proposed solution to breaking of poverty and inequality by educating young women and methods is to inspire hope in them to go into STEM education by acting their role model and use of STEM projects envisioned by the Benignant STEM Innovation Foundation.