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VOL. 128 | NO. 119 | Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eureka Encourages Girls to Explore STEM Fields

By Jennifer Johnson Backer

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A small group of girls huddled around a car-like robot with long sensors as they worked on making sure the car will be able to complete a programmed route at an exhibition next week.

Girls Inc. Eureka participants Ayra Burney-Moorehead, from left, Dennisha Williams, Ashley Jones and Jazsmin Arnold work on programming a robot with the help of Jim Medlock, a systems administrator at Transnetyx Inc.

(Girls Inc.)

“Try this in front Dennisha,” said Ashley Jones, as she handed Dennisha Williams a small gray wheel.

Both girls are participants in the Girls Inc. of Memphis Eureka Program, an effort to encourage girls to explore career paths and post-secondary education in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM fields. This is the second year Girls Inc. has run a free four-week intensive summer camp for girls enrolled in the year-round Eureka Program.

Local organizations like Medtronic Inc., St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Transnetyx Inc. and Merck & Co. have partnered with Girls Inc., inviting the girls to visit their facilities and exposing them to a variety of careers in STEM-related fields.

On Thursday, June 27, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Girls Inc. of Memphis will honor Memphis women and girls at its annual Celebration Luncheon, which takes place at FedExForum. This year’s luncheon also will highlight the Girls Inc. Eureka Program.

This year’s honorees are: Regina Walker, senior vice president of community engagement and alignment with United Way of the Mid-South; Doris F. Boyd, director of environmental affairs for Valero Memphis Refinery; and Wendy McCrory of Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken.

Asha Love will be an eighth grader at Arlington Middle School in the fall. Love says she was interested in enrolling in Eureka because she wants to be a civil engineer.

“I just like the hands-on part of it,” she explained.

Rahni Stewart chimed in, “I’ve always wanted to be a child advocate lawyer, but last week we went to St. Jude and I heard about this job called a music therapist, and I think I could do it. It sounds really cool.”

Stewart, who will be a freshman at White Station High School, says a Girls Inc. mentor recommended the Eureka Program to her because of her love of science.

Other girls in the group wanted to be a botanist, a marine biologist, a physical therapist, and a pediatric cancer researcher. Several were interested in forensics after a visit to Southwest Community College re-created a crime scene and an instructor had program participants piece together a crime using forensic evidence.

While the Eureka Program focuses on exposing girls to STEM-related professions, the five-year, year-round curriculum and activities also help build self-esteem, confidence, team-building skills, and ultimately, help guide girls through the college process, said Rondalyn Martin, the Eureka Program coordinator in Memphis. Martin says it has been rewarding to watch Eureka participants develop.

“When Jazsmin first came to the program, she was very shy. She’s now more of a social butterfly and possesses the traits of positive role models,” Martin said, referring to participant Jazsmin Arnold, who will be a freshman at Bolton High School. “She’s really a smart, strong, bold lady now.”

Martin said most of the program participants come from low-income families and the Eureka Program often is their first exposure to both STEM-related careers and the college application and acceptance process.

“In the beginning, I really wasn’t supposed to be in this program,” said Rae-Jean Davis, who will be a freshman at Overton High School. “My mom wanted me to stay home and watch my little sisters because she has to go to work and my dad has to go to work … so it was like I was just the babysitter.”

Davis said she’s grateful to a Girl’s Inc. adviser who helped convince her parents to let her participate in Eureka.

“They’ve been more like mentors and big sisters to me because of all that I have to deal with,” Davis said.

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