To the Moon: Beyond School Bells Teams Up with Partners to Enhance Girls’ Presence in STEM

Men Are from Mars, Women in STEM are from the Moon…and Back 

As the pandemic sweeps around our world, we’ve experienced a heightened level of adaptation. We’ve also encountered a separation between our spheres that can seem so vast, it feels as though we live on different planets. There are vastly opposing viewpoints on everything. So, where can our worlds intersect?  

One development, which was well underway before the pandemic, has now come to light: The Million Girls Moonshot is a 10-year-long initiative that will shoot for the moon.  

Shoot for the moon! Beyond School Bells will participate in the Million GirlsMoonshot to increase women's presence in STEM.
Shoot for the moon! Beyond School Bells will participate in the Million Girls Moonshot to increase women’s presence in STEM.

Naturally, as an organization that envisions a Nebraska where everyone thrives, we know that “everyone” includes young women, particularly those contemplating a career in STEM. Thanks to Beyond School BellsNebraska Children’s dedicated team of afterschool professionals, and their partner STEM Next, we can now increase the number of STEM-educated rural Nebraska youth.  

Starting from September 16, 2020, Beyond School Bells will partake in STEM Next and partners’ Million Girls Moonshot launch. As we prepare for lift-off, we feel it’s worth mentioning that we are thankful to STEM Next who awarded Beyond School Bells a year-long grant to lead the effort in Nebraska!  

Beyond School Bells and its statewide afterschool partners will maximize its mission in this decade-long national program, which provides youth the opportunities to thrive with STEM-rich learning experiences!  

In addition to bringing STEM to traditionally underserved “rural deserts,” Beyond School Bells and the Million Girls Moonshot seek to live up to their names. Currently, women comprise 50% of our nation’s college-educated professionals. In the STEM fields, however, the presence of women remains scarce. To give you a better idea of this underrepresentation, women account for only 16% of engineers. Latinx and Black women, on the other hand, only comprise about 2% of this field.  

Girls in STEM thrive! Afterschool students of all backgrounds engage in STEM-rich activities.
Girls in STEM thrive! Afterschool students of all backgrounds engage in STEM-rich activities.

Meanwhile, STEM remains a rapidly growing field, with an estimated need for 1 million more professionals for a successful nationwide workforce. The answer is for us to shoot for the moon and engage girls in STEM-related fields. Is this goal a long shot?  

No. It’s a moonshot. And together with their partners, Beyond School Bells will aim high to engage 1 million girls in STEM over the next five years.  

With power in numbers, Beyond School Bells will use its awarded sum of $50,000 to join the cause. Beyond School Bells plans to use the funds to support Nebraska’s afterschool programs to provide a robust STEM education. They will continue to raise their profile through activities like Mission to Mars 2.0, conference workshops, mentorship experiences and other activities over the course of the next year. These STEM-rich experiences are designed to create engaging, rigorous, and educational learning opportunities. 

The network’s director of partnerships, Anna Wishart, is leading the charge to establish local partnerships with businesses and industries and involve more programs. Beyond School Bells is honored to be among those who received this first wave of support and will dedicate themselves to this project for years to come.  

Anna Wishart, Director of Partnerships, will lead the charge and include programs in the Million Girls Moonshot.
Anna Wishart, Director of Partnerships, will lead the charge and include programs in the Million Girls Moonshot.

“The Million Girls Moonshot arrives at exactly the right time for youth in our state,” said Anna. “The pandemic-driven reliance on virtual learning is a reminder that STEM is the wave not just of the future, but the present as well. Afterschool programs have developed a strong track record on STEM, giving children the sleeves-rolled-up, hands-on experiences so critical to learning in this area. We plan to build on that expertise, and are deeply grateful to STEM Next, the Intel Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation for their generous support, now and over the years.”  

“We’re proud to join the Million Girls Moonshot movement, and plan to use this extraordinary opportunity to greatly increase STEM opportunities for youth in afterschool programs in Nebraska,” said Beyond School Bells Network Lead Jeff Cole.  

Mission to Mars 2.0: Beyond School Bells Poses the Challenge; UNL Students Accept  

But we’re not just going to the moon; Beyond School Bells is headed for Mars, too. We’re excited for the team to use STEM Next’s generous support to raise their profile with Mission to Mars 2.0. Beyond School Bells and UNL students have collaborated on a cutting-edge experience. Mission to Mars 2.0 is a new-and-improved activity for K-12 students to use engineering, creativity, and critical thinking to build a colony on a planet that is far, far away.   

Mission to Mars 2.0 features activities such as building your own biodome.
Mission to Mars 2.0 features activities such as building your own biodome.

UNL Honors students have worked to successfully create, streamline, and prototype the curriculum.   

Mission to Mars 2.0 has adapted to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19. This updated version provides a safe, hands-on way for Nebraska youth to engage in learning and support the Million Girls Moonshot.   

At the beginning of the pandemic and social distancing, Beyond School Bells held a virtual Design Intensive for the UNL students. These sessions provided participants the opportunity to flex their creative muscles and collaborate on designing these activities.   

Over a five-day period, an all-female design team of UNL STEM majors undertook this challenge. Each team utilized its knowledge and talents to generate Mission to Mars 2.0. This opportunity provided students with the chance to bring their expertise to a wider audience. Most of the participants had prior experience in curricular creation, having led Honors Afterschool Clubs.   

Sandy Day and Max Cuppens of Beyond School Bells facilitated these teams and challenged the students to think critically about their materials, tailor the lessons to different age groups, and enhance their activities’ potential reach.   

This Design Intensive is one of many collaborations between Beyond School Bells and UNL students. Mission to Mars 2.0, however, is the first session to virtually take place. At first, Max said he was hesitant to create a design sprint on an online platform, until he was pleasantly proven wrong.   

The team leveraged learning platforms including Zoom, Mural, and Google Docs to communicate and collaborate on their ideas.  

“By the end of day two, I was surprised at how well the design sprint process was lending itself to Mural. They ended up pairing together perfectly,” said Max.  

By the end of this initiative, the teams built out 20 new educational resources for students in three age brackets. The group also implemented an Instagram strategy for participants to discuss, engage, and compete while social distancing.   

The Design Team then generated a rubric so projects could be judged according to formal competition best practices. Finally, the groups included their work in Mural so that new designers will never fall short of coming up with great ideas.    

To Infinity and Beyond: Why Shoot for the Moon? 

During this current school year, students and families will face more time outside of the physical classroom. Afterschool programs have responded and adapted, along with Beyond School Bells, by creating hands-on, stimulating learning opportunities that aren’t only fun, but are designed to incite students’ STEM interest and skills.  

Beyond School Bells and their partners have implemented STEM activities in many ways. From bringing a Think Make Create Lab™ to Family Service Lincoln where kids built rockets and junkbots to offering small group activities and virtual remote ones, currently the numbers point to success. The U.S.’s afterschool programs currently serve more than 10 million young people. What’s 1 million more? It’s a moonshot.  

Beyond School Bells' TMC Lab™ rolled into Family Service Lincoln, and so did STEM.
Beyond School Bells’ TMC Lab™ rolled into Family Service Lincoln, and so did STEM.

As Beyond School Bells is a partner-driven network, they’re grateful to afterschool pioneers such as the Mott Foundation, who over the past 20 years, has leveraged more than $300 million in investments in the name of enhancing afterschool programs, networks, and infrastructure throughout all 50 states.  

“The Million Girls Moonshot harnesses the spirit of innovation — in philanthropy and in afterschool programming — to reimagine our nation’s next generation of engineers, problem-solvers, builders and makers,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “We’re delighted that the Intel and Moore Foundations will join us in an effort to promote gender equity by empowering girls through STEM learning opportunities.” 

Beyond School Bells and their partners are committed to the Million Girls Moonshot, which serves as a unifying movement to enhance women’s presence in STEM. We’re in excellent company with partners and funders including NASA, Qualcomm, Technovation, STEMconnector, National Girls Collaborative Project, Jobs For The Future (JFF), Techbridge Girls, and Lyda Hill Philanthropies.  

As Beyond School Bells remains nimble and adaptable to students’ needs amid this ever-changing new world, the Million Girls Moonshot poses as an attainable destination. The network looks forward to receiving educational materials, technological support, and access to Intel’s She Will Connect partners and mentorship from STEM experts including Intel employee volunteers.  

The world may be forever changed as we know it. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to live, thrive, and shoot for the moon.  

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Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

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