Greensboro Parks Foundation Empowers Young Girls with WISE Program

July 11, 2024

In a groundbreaking move to inspire the next generation of female scientists and engineers, the Greensboro Parks Foundation, in collaboration with Greensboro Parks and Recreation, has launched an innovative after-school program called WISE – Women in Science and Engineering. This pilot program, generously supported by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Cone Health, is designed to ignite a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in middle school girls across Greensboro and surrounding communities.

The WISE program, which kicked off in August 2022, targets girls in grades 6-8, a critical age when many young women begin to lose interest in STEM subjects. By providing engaging, hands-on experiences, the program aims to counteract this trend and foster a lifelong love for science and engineering. Shelli Scott, former Greensboro Parks and Recreation Youth Program Specialist and the project director for WISE when the program was initiated, emphasized the importance of early intervention: “We want to catch these girls at an age when they’re still exploring their interests. By showing them the incredible possibilities in STEM fields, we hope to set them on a path to exciting and fulfilling careers.”

The program’s curriculum is as diverse as it is engaging. Participants meet monthly for 2.5-hour sessions, each focused on different aspects of STEM. From building and launching rockets to designing apps, from exploring animal habitats to understanding civil engineering through bridge-building projects, the girls are exposed to a wide array of disciplines. One of the highlights is the SeaPerch project, where participants build an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), learning about buoyancy, propulsion, and waterproofing in the process.

But WISE isn’t just about in-class learning. The program extends beyond the monthly meetings with mid-month virtual check-ins where the girls discuss their ongoing projects, share challenges, and offer peer feedback. This structure not only keeps the girls engaged but also helps them develop critical project management and communication skills. Moreover, WISE organizes field trips to places like the Greensboro Science Center and the local observatory, providing real-world context to their learning.

A unique feature of the program is its emphasis on mentorship. Starting from the second year, previous participants are invited to apply as peer mentors. This not only reinforces their own learning but also helps them develop leadership skills. As Meaghan Conway, the program assistant with a background in disability studies, noted, “The peer mentorship component is invaluable. It creates a supportive community where girls can learn from and inspire each other.”

The WISE program also brings in female STEM professionals as guest speakers. These women share their career journeys, challenges they’ve faced, and the joy they find in their work. By seeing successful women in fields like veterinary science, civil engineering, and technology, the girls can envision themselves in similar roles. This exposure is particularly impactful for girls from low-income families or Title I schools, who may not have many STEM role models in their immediate circles.

The program’s location at the Xperience @Caldcleugh, adjacent to the Greensboro Housing Authority’s Smith Homes neighborhood and near Jackson Middle School (a Title I school), is strategic. It ensures that girls from diverse and often underserved backgrounds have easy access to this transformative opportunity. To further reduce barriers, the program fee is kept low at just $5 per month, with scholarships available for those in financial need.

The impact of WISE extends far beyond the immediate learning. As Scott explained, “We’re not just teaching science and engineering; we’re building confidence, resilience, and a sense of belonging. These skills are crucial for success in any field, but especially in STEM where women are still underrepresented.”

girl doing crafts

Early feedback from parents and educators has been overwhelmingly positive. They report increased enthusiasm for STEM subjects, improved problem-solving skills, and a newfound confidence in the girls. The program’s success has already caught the attention of local media, with WXII 12 News featuring WISE in television segment.

Looking to the future, the Greensboro Parks Foundation and Parks and Recreation are committed to sustaining and expanding WISE. The equipment and resources purchased with the initial grant funding are reusable, providing a solid foundation for future cohorts. Furthermore, the program’s success has attracted interest from potential corporate sponsors and community partners.

The long-term vision is inspiring. By sparking an early interest in STEM, WISE could set these girls on a path to excel academically, earn scholarships, and pursue college degrees in STEM fields. This not only benefits the individuals but also contributes to a more diverse and innovative STEM workforce, essential for tackling the complex challenges of our time.

In conclusion, the WISE program is more than just an after-school activity; it’s a beacon of empowerment and opportunity. Thanks to the vision of the Greensboro Parks Foundation, the expertise of Greensboro Parks and Recreation, and the generous support of AAUW and Cone Health, young girls in Greensboro are discovering that they, too, can be the scientists and engineers of tomorrow. As one participant aptly put it, “WISE showed me that I can do anything I set my mind to. Science isn’t just for boys; it’s for everyone who’s curious about how the world works.”

For more information, contact Greensboro Parks and Recreation STEAM Coordinator Traci Poole at 336-373-7869.

By Paula Barger, Executive Director