“In a society where innovation and change are becoming increasingly important, we hope to show young girls the potential STEM has to change the world.”
Those words are displayed on the website of STEM4fem, a Memphis-based nonprofit that is working to help girls pursue interests in fields related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Jie Wang and Nithya Achanta are high school seniors passionate in STEM, with emphasis in the fields of medical innovation and research. They have been great friends and project partners for five years, completing STEM projects together since the eighth grade.
Wang and Achanta founded STEM4fem in the summer of 2017 after they noticed two major issues in STEM fields: a major gender gap, and resources and opportunities are not always available to everyone.
“Our main goal is providing a platform and network for girls to carry out their ideas and interact with professionals,” said Achanta. “We hope to help them maximize their potential and help them to achieve their goals.”
Throughout their experiences participating in events supporting STEM, both have been upset to find the majority of the participants are male. Living in the South has exposed them to the reality of limited local opportunities and resources in this field, especially after traveling to STEM events elsewhere. As a result, the two have decided to collaborate on STEM4fem, bringing their passions of STEM and equality into one.
The duo has designed a competition through STEM4fem, allowing participants to form and carry out solutions to real-world problems, as well as discovering the importance of STEM in their future.
“STEM in the classroom can sometimes be dull, because textbook learning is not enough to promote an appreciation for the subject,” said Wang. “Our competition gives a structured way to apply STEM to real life.”
“Our upcoming finalist event is for five of the teams we’ve been working with,” said Achanta. “They came up with amazing projects and ideas.
“We want to showcase their talents and projects to the community, as well as give them a chance to earn some scholarship money.”
This year, they were able to reach over 200 girls.
The finalist event will be held at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library on Aug. 6 from 6-8 p.m. There will be project presentations from the teams, judging, an award presentation and a light reception.
STEM4fem’s mission is to inspire girls, specifically in the South and other areas with less academic and economic opportunity, to pursue interests in the predominantly male field.
“This played a huge role in why we decided to have middle and high school girls complete projects that solve community issues in our program,” said Achanta. “We hope other young girls in the community are inspired to get into the STEM field, the same way we were.”
“Although STEM has always been a significant part of my life – both my parents are in the field – I never wanted anything to do with STEM and actually geared towards arts and music, until I started working on my first big project with Nithya in eighth grade,” said Wang. “During that project, I realized that through STEM, I could contribute to a bigger impact on the community and our world.”
“I became interested in STEM in eighth grade, when I worked on a science project for school. Through this project, I realized I could use STEM to solve issues I saw in the community and create a greater impact,” said Achanta.
“When we were able to travel to different STEM events, we noticed that youth in other parts of the country had much greater access to STEM resources, and we wanted to provide those same opportunities to the youth in Memphis,” said Wang.
“Additionally, in an increasingly technology-dependent world, in order for youth in Memphis to have an equal chance in the future job market as their peers around the country, they need to be exposed to an equal amount of STEM opportunities now,” said Achanta.
STEM4fem has held over 20 workshops, with organizations such as Bridge Builders and Girls Inc.
“Our long-term vision is to expand nationally, especially in regions with the need for diversity in this field,” said Achanta.
“We hope to reach thousands of girls interested in STEM and inspire them to pursue it,” said Wang.
(For more information, visit www.stem4fem.com.)