Girls Inc. is a national nonprofit providing girls ages 6-18 with after-school and summer programs, field trips and college tours.
The goal, as stated by the organization’s mission, is “to provide a vision of confidence and self-sufficiency and to provide the means for making the vision a reality for girls, inspiring all girls to become strong, smart, and bold.”
The Eureka program is specifically designed to accommodate rising eighth-graders with an interest in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum. The Eureka program’s coordinator is Rondalyn Martin, a Memphis native who attended Hillcrest High School but had no such program available when she was a child.
“One of the things that I say to the girls often is that I wish I was afforded an opportunity, as well as knowing about programs such as this.”
“One of the things that I say to the girls often is that I wish I was afforded an opportunity, as well as knowing about programs such as this, that will give you an opportunity and give you this type of exposure to various careers,” she said.
During the school year, Martin said, women mentors working in STEM fields will come in to “speak with the young ladies about various opportunities that they have and expose them to various careers, salaries and whatnot, and we do a lot of touring of facilities as well as taking them around to teach them about colleges that have a high interest in those areas for them to participate in later on.”
The program extends into a summer component for a four-week camp that offers engaging activities and a more hands-on experience to help hold the girls’ interest over those off-months from school. The summer program is held on college campuses in the area and this past summer included a visit to The University of Memphis, where the girls learned about robotics and were able to build robots.
“If they can see it, that’s one thing, but when you can see it and you can actually be engaged in it, it takes on another level of excitement,” Martin said. “That’s one of the things that I do have to say that I love about working with this organization and being a part of this program, is that it is all engaging and hands-on activities.”
Martin graduated from Southwest Tennessee Community College with a degree in social services and went on to work for the city of Memphis in its Workforce Investment Network program.
She started with Girls Inc. in March 2010, and began the Eureka program with funding from the national office. When her supervisor first showed her the curriculum, she was excited about the chance to help girls thrive in STEM fields.
“I was just so enthused about the program that I was just geared immediately and my adrenaline got going,” she said.
To recruit young girls into Eureka, information on the program is extended to seventh-grade guidance counselors in Shelby and DeSoto counties’ public, private and charter schools asking for five to seven recommendations of those with an interest in the STEM subjects.
“We take them through an interview process where we interview both the young ladies and their parents,” Martin said.
Those chosen are in the program for five years and must adhere to a strict attendance policy requiring 10 to 12 sessions during the school year while missing no more than two days per session. From this wide net, only 40 rising eighth graders will be recruited.
These parameters might seem strict for an after-school activity, but Martin said there is a need to keep girls interested and engaged in the STEM curriculum.
“Once they move on from elementary into middle school, they start to dislike science,” she said. “Statistical data does show that, because guys are more involved, have more interest, their intellectual skills enhance more in those areas than in the typical female. That’s one of the urgencies that we’re wanting girls to know, is that we can do science. … We are just as competitive in those careers as a man would be.”
Martin and her husband, Michael, pastor for Oak Spring Baptist Church in Arlington, have a son, Stephen, in high school, and a daughter, Myah, in the fifth grade. And Martin thinks of the girls in her care at Girls Inc. “as if they are my own daughters.”
“I call them my babies, my girls,” she said. “I’m trying to deposit every ounce of positivity into them. … Some of these girls’ lives have been changed because of the exposure that they’ve received through this program.”