Beyond School Bells (BSB) wants to empower girls, especially those of color and other underrepresented groups, with the power of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Tyrina Webster, Director of Operations at the Malone Center, wants to equip young women with knowledge, dreams, and career choices. So does Joshua Jones, the Director of The Career Academy. Together, we make a formidable team.
BSB, Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s dedicated network of afterschool professionals, agrees. We’re delighted to partner with the Malone Center, an organization that was founded to promote civil rights and leads many programs, including afterschool learning.
Naturally, BSB is excited to be a part of the Million Girls Moonshot (MGM), a multi-year grant that seeks to live up to its name to include 1 million girls, especially those of color, in STEM afterschool programming. As of now, although STEM jobs are in-demand, gender and equity barriers often stand in the way. We and our partners seek to dissolve these inequities through quality expanded learning opportunities (ELOs).
Thanks to BSB’s partners at STEM Next, we joined the charge in this nationwide initiative to include more girls in this cutting-edge field. When we hear how partners like the Malone Center and The Career Academy have partnered with us to join this movement, we’re thrilled to the moon and back.
We can’t say enough about afterschool or how strongly we as an organization feel about young women and girls thriving as they establish relationships and learn. One of the most important things about afterschool is that our partners are remarkable at finding relatable, talented mentors whom young women and girls can look up to and engage with.
Tyrina would be inclined to agree. She said that STEM is an essential skill for young women to learn. “I think STEM is important,” she said.
Tyrina added that as a Black woman herself, the Malone Center’s predominantly Black students should have the opportunity to learn from peers, especially high school students of color. Luckily, the Malone Center and The Career Academy put two talented high school students in charge!
We’d like to step in here and add that in addition to enhancing equity, that quality afterschool learning establishes these invaluable mentoring relationships.
Tyrina said that her lived experience of often being the only woman of color in the room can be lonely, so she’s devoted herself to enhancing the mentorships between high school students and the Malone Center’s female participants.
“I live as a Black woman; that’s all I can live,” she said. “I’m the only person [of color in the room] at all times; everyone knows me. They know my name, and I’m the only person who looks like me. Equality can’t be there until [underrepresented groups] are represented in the masses. If everyone is white and [performing a certain profession], you can’t say [opportunities] are equal.”
Still, Tyrina, Josh, and BSB remain committed to STEM equity and new experiences.
Tyrina said, “We’re exposing these girls to something new, which can open their minds to do something different, and to know they can do it.”
One of the best things about afterschool is that children and youth can meet relatable role models.
Tyrina said she originally wanted to become a doctor, but the lack of Black doctors as available role models proved discouraging. To this day, she seeks to fill some of these gaps for the Malone Center female attendees.
“I didn’t know ANY Black doctors; nobody encouraged me. When I started college, I was in a program at [the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] [designed for students] of color, and a lot of us trickled off. I know people who made it, but nobody stayed here! You don’t have to take it somewhere else! You can stay in your community.” she said.
Tyrina said that in Lincoln, finding Black professionals in niche fields can be extremely difficult but is important for children.
“These kids look around, and there’s nobody like them. [These limitations] can be discouraging. As you grow up, you know about basic careers. There’s so much in STEM, so we need to open these girls’ eyes up beyond the basic career paths,” she said.
Of course, as with any partnership, Joshua and Tyrina had a meeting of the minds, along with BSB, and support from our partners at STEMNext.
As the Director of The Career Academy, Joshua works with high school juniors and seniors. A joint effort between Lincoln Public Schools and Southeast Community College, the organization provides academic and boots-on-the-ground opportunities to high school juniors and seniors. These students can earn dual credit courses with 16 different career pathways from which to choose.
When Josh spoke with the Malone Center about working with upper-level middle school students to experience Career Academy opportunities, he and Tyrina agreed that their missions aligned, as did their vision to provide middle school-aged students with high school-aged mentors.
The program will run throughout this fall, winter, and spring and focuses on STEM-related activities. The program is also part of a national research project, an effort of MGM that is supported by STEM Next with the purpose of better understanding the ways STEM learning can be connected across educational settings for middle school girls. Lessons and strategies learned from the Malone Center and The Career Academy partnership will be shared nationally with statewide afterschool networks. BSB is honored to support the related projects and help offset the costs in collaboration with STEM Next.
Josh said he’s glad that the MGM grant focuses on STEM-related programming.
Luckily, this program significantly overlaps with The Career Academy’s initiatives, as the organization has pathways aligned with the sciences, agricultural biology, and engineering.
“We try to find activities that [students] can learn and engage in ways that don’t replicate the school day,” said Josh.
According to Josh, STEM activities plant the seeds of growth and greatness.
“With young kids, [these efforts] are about planting a seed of opportunity. Even though we know these students will change ideas [about careers] about 50 times, if they can reference opportunities they’ve had and say, “THAT is what I can do,’ that’s what’s important.”
Josh remains inspired by the deep connections that the girls at the Malone Center form with the high school student-mentors, Alexis and Aliana, who, thanks to The Career Academy, lead them in STEM learning experiences.
“Alexis and Aliana have a good connection with the girls. The most important thing is the near-peer connection and for these young girls to work with quality high school young women,” said Josh.
The STEM-related units, meanwhile, have been diverse and relevant.
“We started with a health science unit around hair and skincare products [that’s] specific to learning about the human [physiology],” said Josh.
The girls continue to engage in a great deal of other STEM-based activities!
Josh said, “We built bridges out of popsicle sticks; we’ve done egg drops. [The participants] make a mechanism to keep an egg from breaking; these are engineering activities!”
Still, there’s more to come.
“We did some more activities out of the Malone Center’s greenhouse, [including] hydroponic planting; we’ll do outdoor planting next week,” said Tyrina.
Happily, Tyrina said that as she co-leads the activities, she’s learning and having fun with everyone else!
“Sometimes, I think I enjoy [STEM] more than the girls!” she said, laughing.
According to Tyrina, the best part of these learning experiences is that they bleed outside the afterschool walls and into real life.
“We’re giving the girls access to careers and to pathways; information like your hair is 25 percent water! I have plants growing in my house [from our STEM learning activities]. [I learned how] to water them! I’ll have a whole greenhouse!” she said
Tyrina said, “These different activities across the board stimulate me as an adult! Sometimes, [it’s] hard to get kids focused. But the girls are pretty engaged! They’re planting seeds or learning about the parts of their [physiology] like their hair, and they may not have known what it means. [The girls] are getting something out of [these opportunities].”
Tyrina continues to put her aspirations for mentors in motion.
“My goal is for high school students to be 100 percent involved in leading and developing the curriculum and activities, and for them to do all of the work,” she said.
Josh and Tyrina agree the near-peer relationships that the girls develop with Alexis and Aliana are equally important as learning.
Tyrina said this bonding is vital because the girls naturally want to learn from someone who’s a young woman of color, closer to their age, and relatable.
“They have something to look up and forward to – having those connections and bonds will help them. The [high school students] in [The Career Academy] have goals and talk about what to do with their future, so the girls at the Malone Center look up to that. They want them, not us, to say it!” she said.
“It matters that Alexis and Aliana are students of color, and it matters to [the girls] too. [This experience] is about building [the girls at the Malone Center up], and vice-versa and giving [the girls] a new view and perspective.”
Josh added the high school mentors are developing strong leadership skills.
“They’re starting to see themselves as leaders, which matters as you get ready for college,” he said.
Josh and Tyrina said that the girls continue to learn through these close-peer interactions that span beyond STEM and into life!
“They talk about TikTok; they have a connection,” said Tyrina. “[As] high school students, [Alexis and Aliana] are like-minded. They have things in common with the [Malone Center attendees]. [The mentors] make TikTok videos [together] and dance and connect on that level,” said Tyrina.
As we continue to shoot for the moon, we know that we can reach a million girls to pursue lucrative, exciting STEM careers, starting with Nebraska, our partners, and our young women.
“[This work is] about numbers,” said Josh. “When you have an underrepresented group, there’s underrepresentation in subject areas. It starts by exposing girls [to STEM] at a young age.”
Maybe the moon is only the beginning.
Tyrina added, “We’re starting young and keep pushing these girls; I really think [afterschool learning] is beneficial and brings us one step closer to opening their eyes.”
We agree. And as an organization dedicated to equity and thriving, BSB can’t wait to see how much these girls and young women go on to thrive and flourish, along with the seeds of STEM!