High school girls explore college, STEM careers at Penn State at the Navy Yard

Penn State Brandywine faculty conduct a chemistry experiment for high school girls.

Penn State Brandywine Science Lab Coordinator Tracy Lea-Dorsey, right, and Associate Teaching Professor of Chemistry Steven Shuey conduct a science experiment for high school girls in the chemistry, forensic science and physics breakout session. 

Credit: Michael McDade

MEDIA, Pa. — Approximately 100 high school girls from the Greater Philadelphia area visited Penn State at the Navy Yard on Nov. 25 for Penn State Brandywine’s College and Careers event, which is part of the campus’ extensive STEM Options program.

Designed for girls in grades nine through 12, the College and Careers event featured several breakout sessions led by Brandywine STEM faculty and admissions staff covering topics such as STEM career options, how to prepare for a college major in STEM, and best practices when applying to colleges. STEM fields discussed in the sessions included biology, agriculture, animal science, medicine, forensic science, engineering, information technology and more. Current Brandywine STEM students also attended the event to share their perspectives on majoring in STEM-related disciplines.

Brandywine Professor of Earth Science Laura Guertin, who serves as chair of the STEM Options Committee, ran a session that taught Earth science, marine science and meteorology.

“This high school program takes girls on a deeper dive into a variety of STEM careers and how they can best prepare for pursuing a college degree in these fields,” Guertin said. “A unique component of our high school program compared to other programs in the area is that our admissions office is involved and presents an overview for girls on the college application process, including how to prepare for the SATs, how to learn about scholarship opportunities, and how to communicate professionally with college staff and faculty. This is an important expansion of our existing STEM Options program and an exciting addition to our portfolio.”

For many years, Brandywine has offered a one-day STEM Options career exploration session for seventh-grade girls. Last year, the program added a second day to include ninth-grade girls. This year, the planning committee wanted to develop the campus’ STEM Options programming even further by offering virtual presentations for K-12 students, a writing contest for girls in grades three through 12, a teacher workshop for middle school and high school teachers, and the College and Careers event. These expansions to the STEM Options program were made possible through gifts to Brandywine from Mark H. and Lauren S. Dambly and the Verizon Foundation.

“Research shows that middle school is the time when girls are either turned ‘on’ to or turned ‘off’ from considering a future in science, but a one-time program is not enough to sustain long-term impact,” Guertin said. “With generous financial support, we've been able to expand the seventh-grade experience and add this new program for high school girls.”

Overall, Guertin was pleased with the success of the new program and noted the commitment displayed by the Brandywine campus community.

“Our STEM faculty and students, male and female, are dedicated to creating a more inclusive STEM environment,” she said. “I look forward to our continued programming this academic year, including a teacher workshop that helps teachers learn science and the status of women in STEM, a writing contest highlighting the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and our seventh-grade Career Pathways for Girls program.”