I recently got wind of a new mentoring program called NASA G.I.R.L.S., organized by Women@NASA. The program is so new that they are still building their website, but I knew I just had to contact them to find out more! I was able to reach the NASA official responsible for this new project, Mamta Patel Nagaraja, who was enthusiastic about spreading the word about NASA G.I.R.L.S.
So here’s how it works. Eligible girls in grades 5-8 can apply to be selected in this program where they will be mentored one-on-one by a woman working at NASA! The mentor could be of any STEM profession and will be assigned randomly, though they may consider the girls’ application essays to find a good match. The girls will participate in a five-week online NASA lesson plan that will cover activities in each of the STEM fields. “For example, during Science week, the student may design an interstellar trip and discuss why she chose certain design specifications. During the engineering week, the student may design a robot hand or a mockup of the International Space Station from popsicle sticks, glue, and paper.” During those five weeks, the girls will be able to contact their Women@NASA mentor via video chat to get help on the assignments and ask whatever questions they like about STEM and working at NASA!
Of course, I had to ask if the girls could contact their mentor after the program was over. “It is our goal to allow the young women and Women@NASA to maintain an e-mentorship well after the program concludes. One thing we will observe during this pilot year is just how well the continuation of mentoring goes.”
Since this is the pilot year, they are keeping the program small while they iron out the kinks for future years. Most likely only 15-20 girls will be selected this year. “We are mostly limited by the number of mentors who have the time necessary to mentor one-on-one. We want the NASA girls to be fully engaged and feel really special. […] Someday, it would be our goal to mentor as many young girls that show interest by applying!”
It will also be possible to mentor groups, due to a partnership between Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital and the Challenger Foundation. “Together, we will bring girl scout troops to a Challenger Foundation and tie in a Woman@NASA to lead a group mentoring session. […] After our pilot year, we would like to expand the group mentoring sessions to girls who are also not in the Girl Scouts program. Much of our pilot year will be dedicated to seeing what works and what doesn’t and making a stronger future program.”
Whether the program will continue next year (or how frequently per year) is dependent on the success of this pilot year. The success will be measured by the number of applications received and the number of mentors available, amongst other things. “We really hope the project will be successful and last for years to come. That’s my goal anyway!”
I ask Mamta why she believed in this project.
We fully believe that the nation’s future largely depends on scientists, engineers, and technologists. Too many of the maladies that threaten the human race require the minds and resources of these professions. Moreover, many of these issues have triumphed for years, such as cancer. STEM careers are largely dominated by men, with only 25% of STEM jobs and related higher education degrees attributed to women. This alone is not a concern–men are smart and do a phenomenal job in these fields. Our goal is not to rah-rah women or in any way express that women are “better.” We simply believe that to address the issues facing the human population is a feat too great for just a small subset of our smartest people. We must tap into every market available. That means men and women, of the most diverse brains possible. It is the union of men and women working together that will win the war on cancer or find alternative fuels or propel us to Mars.
If you know a girl who might be interested, NASA G.I.R.L.S. will begin accepting applications online by the beginning of May and are due June 15th, 2012. The program itself runs July 9th through August 10th, 2012. You can follow @WomenNASA on Twitter or Women@NASA on Facebook to the latest news and updates. Mamta, I wish you and your team great success with this fantastic endeavor!