By Bernie Petit
A program that encourages young girls to develop their talents in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is being strengthened, thanks to funding from the Arts & Science Council (ASC).
ASC recently announced an initial investment of $6.6 million in the local cultural community to fund 49 neighborhood cultural projects, festivals, programming in all Mecklenburg County municipalities, and support the operations of 22 cultural organizations.
“Providing access to cultural experiences that are personally empowering and transformative is fundamental to the continued growth of our community,” said ASC President Robert Bush. “ASC invests in an array of arts, science, history/heritage and community-based projects that are not only educational, entertaining and enriching, but also keep our region fun and fascinating.”
Among those investments is Project Scientist, which started three years ago with summer programs conducted in the guest home of founder Sandy Marshall before finding a home at Queens University and expanding this year to a second site at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte.
Marshall had decided to do something about the disadvantages girls and women have in STEM majors and careers.
Project Scientist “stemmed from my desire to provide better opportunities for my two young daughters and other girls in the community,” she said. “By looking at the factors that affect a girl’s perception of ‘who is a scientist’ and ‘what does a scientist do,’ we developed a pipeline for girls that nurture their growth over the course of their educational experience.”
Project Scientist will receive a $5,000 ASC Cultural Project Grant to develop and implement a quality method and curriculum that integrates STEM and the arts in its summer programming for girls ages 4 to 12.
“Ours is the only program to start girls as young as four years old, even though the research says that for girls and minorities, you need to get them interested in science at 4, 5 and 6 years old in order to prevent gender and cultural biases from setting in,” Marshall said.
After relying on community artists to volunteer their time to work with girls in the summer program last year,
the grant will allow Project Scientists to pay teaching artists this year. It makes a real difference, Marshall said.
“If we didn’t have funding from ASC, we would be relying on interns to do the arts component of our camp,” she said. “This grant allows us to get the best of Charlotte in here to inspire the girls.”
On one recent afternoon, several elementary-aged girls created poems about explosions, bones and other concepts they’d been learning about. Another day, they worked on life cycle quilts, altering the color of the cloth by boiling down objects from nature and basing their work on stages of the life cycle.
“It’s exposing the girls to things they normally might not be exposed to,” said teaching artist Amy St. Aubin, “and by utilizing the arts, you’re integrating art forms with science, so it’s cross-cultural learning and holistic learning.”
To view ASC’s first round of investments, click here.