School District of Hillsborough County Partners with Million Women Mentors to Boost Students’ Engagement in STEM

Million Women Mentors (MWM) is a national program targeted to increase the participation and
success of female students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or what is commonly referred to as STEM. The Program’s overarching mission is geared towards college and career readiness in STEM fields for female students, and boost the interest and confidence of girls and young women to succeed in STEM programs and careers through recruitment and engagement of (male and female) STEM mentors, and community-wide participation and engagement of corporations, nonprofits, associations, government entities and higher education institutes. In Florida, the MWM initiative has gained widespread support and participation. MWM Florida chapter seeks to position Florida as one of the leading states through creation of a robust program for recruitment of mentors who will make a difference in young girls’ lives inspiring them to pursue careers STEM.

Joleen Clark, Florida Chapter President for MWM, states the initiative is an offshoot of the
National Million Women Mentors movement and its goals and missions correspond and reflect to the national effort. As the Chair of the Steering Committee, Clark is vested with the responsibility to determine strategies for successful implementation of the program in Florida that are designed to engage and recruit mentees in school districts across the state. Clark also provides oversight over the evaluation and assessment of current strategies.

The Florida Steering Committee, which is part of a network of steering committees in 30 states, was established in Spring 2015 with the official kick-off of the mentoring program in August 2015. The initiative has laid out ambitious goals to recruit 5,000 mentors over four years to mentor girls and young women in STEM programs and careers. It also seeks to establish a new program engaging middle and high school age girls in a mentoring relationship that will be aligned with the school year to provide continued support and reinforcement for success, and hopes to increase the percentage of Florida middle/high school girls planning to pursue STEM careers by 2019.

Since launching the program last summer, MWM has been working with schools and 5th to

12th grade students. Locally Hillsborough County Public Schools has committed a minimum of 50 sites, each to be served by at least one mentor who will regularly meet with five female students, grades 5 to 12, throughout the 2015-2016 school year. Principals, or their designee at each school will be responsible for communicating with the mentor, parents and students, while providing space for the mentorship to occur outside the classroom. Mentors will also participate in various activities, lessons, and outreach projects that showcase the applications of STEM in real-life settings to students.

The underwater robot project was one of the outreach activities designed to spark students’
interest in STEM. Earlier this year, 20 girls from Hillsborough County Public Schools participated in the Underwater Robot Camp for girls which was supported by the Florida Aquarium, Museum of Science and Industry, and National Geographic Learning. Using the underwater robot (ROV), students explored the Tampa Coast while learning the basics in electronics, soldering, acrylic construction to build their ROVs, test it in a “micro expedition,” and sharing their discoveries on a digital field journal. During the activity, students also got the chance to discuss what it is like to work in these settings with a young woman who was a real-life submarine pilot and engineer.

MWM Florida has tremendous scope for strengthening its outreach to students across Florida.
As the program gathers momentum, it hopes to expand and work with young adult women as well. Looking to the future MWM also hopes to reach out and partner with organizations like FLATE with its committed programs that are targeted to recruiting girls in STEM. MWM also hopes to explore developmental opportunities in preparatory classes that will capture students’ interest at an early state and prepare them for STEM careers of the future.

For more information on the Florida Chapter of the Million Women Mentors Network contact
MWM Florida Chair, Joleen Clark at joleen.clark@sigma-hc.com. For information on FLATE’s Women in STEM based initiatives contact Executive Director of FLATE, Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org, or visit www.madeinflorida.org and www.fl-ate.org.