Program draws teen girls into technology fields

Chapel Hill Middle School students participate in the YWCA’s Teen Girls in Technology. The program has more than 500 metro Atlanta students. Photos provided

Chapel Hill Middle School students participate in the YWCA’s Teen Girls in Technology. The program has more than 500 metro Atlanta students. Photos provided

 

“Not all ‘IT guys’ have to be guys.”

That’s what a technology program for metro Atlanta girls teaches its participants.

Since 2006, the Teen Girls in Technology (TGIT) program has focused on helping girls become more interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Participants are recruited in middle school and can stay in the program through college.

The program started with three schools and 50 girls, said Judy Brown-Fears, the TGIT program manager. Seven of the girls left the program.

“Out of [those remaining] 43 girls, 42 of those girls graduated from high school and majored in a STEM area,” Brown-Fears said. “My very first set of girls is in college now in their second year.” Some participants have gone onto colleges such as Agnes Scott, UGA, University of Tennessee, Spelman and Georgia State.

Now the program has 555 students in the metro Atlanta area, with participants in many DeKalb County schools including Chapel Hill, Bethune, Columbia and Druid Hills middle schools.

Students participate in the Teen Girls in Technology program’s annual kickoff event at Georgia Power.

The program helps students cultivate an interest and competence in STEM subjects through various hands-on activities and field trips, Brown-Fears said.

“Instead of just teaching them about math, science and technology, we apply something to it,” she said. The participants learn “a lot of things they don’t think about that apply to one of the stem areas.

“They don’t know that when you work behind the scenes at a TV station or a radio station, that’s an engineering job,” Brown-Fears said. “Anything that deals with STEM in the real world, we teach them.”

In addition to the STEM exposure, the program teaches the participants leadership and interview skills, etiquette and how to dress for success, Brown-Fears said.

“We try to make it real holistic,” she said. “When they leave us and they get ready to go out to the real world they’ve touched a little bit of everything.”

The participants have gone on field trips to the Kennedy Space Center, Disney World and to Delta for a training flight.

“Some of these girls haven’t even gone out of the city,” Brown-Fears said. “They get exposure; that’s the bottom line.

“They’ve been able to become better leaders, [make] better choices in their activities, [and become] decision makers,” Brown-Fears said. “It’s kind of taken them out of their shell and they’ve got to do things that they haven’t been able to do before.”

Free for students, the program relies on grants from various benefactors. TGIT recently received a $10,000 grant from Delta Community Credit Union.

The organization was one of 15 to receive part of the $70,000 the credit union donated from its Philanthropic Fund.

Brown-Fears said the $10,000 grant is “almost like adopting a school,” providing curriculum, supplies and field trips.

“It helps to serve 20 girls as well as pay for somebody to facilitate at a site,” Brown-Fears said. “This allows for…more girls to go through the program and become leaders in STEM.”

 

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