Girls Day Out inspires underserved middle-school girls to confidently explore STEM potential
Discovery Place Science
Growing up in a single-parent household in New York City, Bernice Feggins says she could have easily become discouraged about her future and what it might hold. But Feggins’ mother would not allow that to happen to her young daughter.
“From very early on, my mother taught me I could be anything I wanted to be,” Feggins says. “I learned I really could do anything.”
Today, Feggins is a project manager for Bank of America in Charlotte. Through her employer, she also volunteers at Discovery Place Girls Day Out events, which provide underserved middle-school girls with experiences in science, technology, engineering and math.
“Historically, these STEM fields have been dominated by males,” says Maggie Connelly, coordinator of the Girls in STEM initiative at Discovery Place. “We want to show young girls that if this is something they are interested in, they can do it and absolutely should go for it.”
As part of the organization’s larger Girls in STEM initiative, Discovery Place has hosted approximately 10 Girls Day Out events per year for the past two years, all of which have been sponsored by Bank of America. During a typical Girls Day Out, approximately 40 girls come to Discovery Place Science where they watch the film, “Dream Big: Engineering Our World;” hear from a STEM-based speaker; and conduct STEM activities.
“The activities – yes they are fun, but they also teach these girls,” Connelly says. “It is engineering, but more than that, it is about engaging in a process that teaches them how to solve a problem.”
Sixth-grader Dasia M. wasn’t sure her group would be able to solve the proposed problem – getting a water bottle to remain suspended in the middle of a tub of water without sinking to the bottom or floating to the top – during a recent Girls Day Out at the Museum.
“We ran back and forth, back and forth trying to figure out how to make it work,” says the 12-year-old, who aspires to one day become a neurosurgeon or lawyer. “We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do it, but we collaborated as a group and did. It felt really good to accomplish it.”
Over the course of each Girls Day Out event, Connelly says she witnesses a significant shift in the mindset of many participants. “I see a complete change in their confidence,” she says. “They go from being hesitant and reserved to comfortable and confident in what they are doing.”
That visible confidence boost only strengthens Feggins’ desire to volunteer with the program at Discovery Place.
“I hid my love of math and science for a long time, until one day one of my teachers taught me that liking science was a good thing and I should explore it more confidently,” she recalls. “It is important as women that we come out and encourage young girls, so they are able to see that, too.”