In honor of the launch of the new program, Mayor Linda Tyer presented Brigham Center CEO Kelly Marion a copy of 'She Persisted' written by Chelsea Clinton.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The students who stand out for BCC's Dean of Academic Affairs Charles Kaminski are the ones who come in with bold dreams.
It is the women who come from a family of nurses and want to take that a step forward and become biochemists. Or the girl who starts out thinking about becoming a teacher and instead aims to become a data analyst.
It is the women who refuse to just accept what society tells them they can and cannot do that stands out to Kaminski because at one time women weren't encouraged in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Now, Kaminski is preparing to meet a whole lot more of those women who think bigger and bolder. Berkshire Community College is one of the many partners establishing the Eureka! Program through Girls Inc.
"It is programs like Eureka that gets students to that tipping point, that catalyst to this realization that they can really pursue a field in STEM that they want to do and have a passion for, not just what they feel is expected of them because of their gender," Kaminski said.
The program is one Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center CEO Kelly Marion has wanted to roll out locally for years but hasn't had the funding. It is a five-year program guiding a girl from middle school to college in the STEM career path.
For the first two years, the student attends a summer camp on the campuses of Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts doing hands-on experiments and programs. There is a focus on sports, specifically swimming, and personal growth. During the school year, there is continued mentoring, relationship building and field trips. In year three and four, the girls, in partnership with the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, are given paid internships with local companies in the STEM field.
And the fifth year, the focus is on preparing them for college.
"Girls need opportunities, girls need resources, girls need to know they can be their best, accept challenges, support each other in achieving goals, take risks, to learn from and make mistakes, and to develop new skills," Marion said.
The program is particularly aimed to help those of low-income and minorities. At the Brigham Center, 59 percent of the girls identify as a minority, 44 percent come from homes with annual incomes less than $25,000 per year, and 40 percent of the girls come from a single-parent household. Starting next year, 20 of those girls will be able to attend the program at no cost.
"Our goal is to add new cohorts, eventually having 100 girls participating annually in a five-year cycle," Marion said.
While the program is free for those participating, it does cost about $50,000 per year to run. Marion had talked about the program at business events and other social gatherings. And then she was put in touch with Berkshire Gas and the parent company's charitable arm, the Avangrid Foundation.
The proposal came before Avangrid Foundation Director Nicole Licata Grant's desk. Grant went through a similar program when she a was a young girl so it wasn't hard for her to decide to get involved.
"We were excited by the opportunity and it was one I similarly had as a kid growing up in New Haven, Conn. It made an enormous impact in my life. It was the first time I met engineers who were women. It was my first time on a college campus. It made all the difference in the world," Grant said.
Avangrid Foundation and Berkshire Gas have put forth $25,000 for the first year of the program. It is a challenge grant and Marion said she will now be seeking other sponsors to get it off the ground.
"In so many ways STEM represents the future of generations to come. Preparing young women to pursue STEM-based professions will create new possibilities for them and significantly expand the STEM talent pool for the benefit of all. Nothing could be more exciting. A new day is upon us and horizons for young people will be brighter than ever before," said Berkshire Gas President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Zink.
Zink is hoping her company's gift becomes a "magnet" to bring in others. The Brigham Center will become just the 19th Girls Inc. Affiliate to run it.
Karen Zink said the program opens up a bright future for local girls.
According to Girls Inc. Regional III Director Annie Heitman, the program was designed in 1987 and in 1992 the National Science Foundation funded a pilot program of it at five different sites in the country.
"It was designed to help women develop leadership and career skills and was targeted to girls of color, living in the inner city many of whom were economically disadvantaged," Heitman said.
In 2010, the Clinton Global Initiative funded a massive expansion of the program and monitored the outcomes.
"Girls participating in Eureka stay interested in math and science through high school and prepares them for a world that is increasingly technological," Heitman said.
And now, the program continues to find its way into Girls Inc. Affiliates throughout the country — with the Berkshires becoming the latest to take it on.
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at MCLA Adrienne Wooters said the program ties directly into the work of local educators. In 2003, MCLA, BCC, local school districts, and non-profits came together to form the Berkshire STEM Pipeline. Together they have focused on getting more and more students into the science and technology fields.
"We have been meeting regularly and thinking about how we get STEM into the schools, how we increase the quality of teaching in the schools, and how we get more of our Berkshire County students to move into STEM fields. This is a big deal for us," Wooters.
"Working with Girl's Inc. is absolutely part of the mission. It is part of the mission at BCC. It is part of the mission at MCLA."
Marion added the importance the program will have to the local economy, where the workforce lacks employees with strong STEM backgrounds.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said the program is "changing lives" and reflected on the years in which women were discouraged and told they could not go into these fields. And Mayor Linda Tyer praised the support in helping young girls become the best they can be.
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