Virtual STEM Program for Girls

By: Yasmin Ranade

November 24, 2020

To provide youth the opportunity to explore the world of science, technology, trades, engineering, and mathematics, the Canadian Association for Girls In Science (CAGIS) has launched a new national membership program for girls and gender non-binary your age 7 – 16.

Dr. Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko

As explained by Founder & President, Dr. Larissa Vingilis-Jaremko, CAGIS has “13 chapters (local clubs) in cities across Canada that meet monthly to explore STEM with fun, hands-on activities led by experts in a variety of STEM fields.  These monthly events often occur at the workplaces of our STEM experts, like a lab, a workshop, or the field.  This gives girls a behind-the-scenes view and allows them to experience those environments for themselves!”

Regarding its new program offering, Vingilis-Jaremko said, “This spring, we pivoted to offer virtual live events, to engage girls at home.  This resulted in CAGIS Virtual, our new program that brings weekly live interactive events with fun, hands-on activities led by REAL EXPERTS and a certified teacher into [the] home!”  And, Vingilis-Jaremko added, “Each session begins with our expert giving a short, interactive talk on a topic related to their area of specialty, … with time for questions at the end.”

“I started CAGIS at the age of 9 when I noticed that my female friends hated anything related to the sciences and had really negative stereotypes of scientists and engineers,” Vingilis-Jaremko. “I knew that these stereotypes were not true!  My mother, a research scientist, and my father, an engineer, were nothing like the stereotypes my school friends believed.  At the same time, I was looking for more fun STEM activities and was tired of being the only girl in a group of boys.”

“I decided to start a club for girls to visit experts, see their cool equipment and technology, and do fun hands-on activities,” explained Vingilis-Jaremko.  “Some of my favourite CAGIS events were doing arthroscopic surgery on (rubber) knees in an operating room (following the same procedures used to train medical students) and building our own model bridges that we tested in an engineering wind tunnel.”

CAGIS STEM experts are from a wide range of fields.

Bonnie Douglas

“The experts provide participants with diverse role models in a variety of fields, including some that our youth didn’t even know existed,” stated Vingilis-Jaremko. “For example, our participants were delighted to discover that an engineer could be responsible for making ice cream after meeting Bonnie Douglas, a food engineer who has spent most of her career working at an ice cream factory (with a short foray at a cookie factory).  Bonnie led our participants through the process of making their own ice cream at home during the live session, and explained the STEM of what was happening.”

Janelle Hinds

“One of our upcoming role models, Janelle Hinds, has been called the “Mobile App Queen” and is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.  She will lead the girls through the process of making a simple mobile app!  Other upcoming sessions include DNA extraction at home, the science of chocolate, and more.”

CAGIS also reaches out to experts as well as youth who are diverse in many ways.

“We hope that girls have fun with the program and are inspired to explore, create, discover, and experiment,” began Vingilis-Jaremko. “We also hope that the program exposes girls to a wide variety of topics and role models that inspire them with the many possibilities for their futures.”

Explained Vingilis-Jaremko, “Children are inundated with stereotypical portrayals of STEM experts on TV shows, in children’s toys, books, and more.  Research has demonstrated that children’s exposure to scientists plays a strong role in shaping their perceptions of scientists and influencing their interest in entering those fields.  In other words, stereotypic portrayals of STEM experts can influence children’s interest in the sciences. However, highlighting non-stereotyped and diverse role models decreases stereotypic associations and improves attitudes toward women and other underrepresented groups in the sciences.  It also increases interest in the sciences among students from those underrepresented groups”.

The breadth of programming and opportunities afforded to youth is commendable, and its participants have been impressed.

“Our program also follows other practices that support girls’ interest in STEM, including hands-on activities, project-based science, cooperative learning, and mentoring programs that connect girls to scientists, all of which have been demonstrated to improve learning and attitudes toward STEM,” said Vingilis-Jaremko.

This is what just a couple of the virtual program participants had to say:

“Being part of CAGIS Virtual has made it easy for me to do real science using stuff in my home.  I really like that during COVID CAGIS helped me learn about fun topics like the different layers of the earth.  After learning about the earth’s layers, I was inspired to even do another project.”   Mayim van Zon, 9-years-old

“My favourite CAGIS online activity has been building a Rube Goldberg project.  We had to find an interesting way to drop a bar of soap into a hand.  I learned how one little action can create a massive chain reaction.  It will be interesting to find out about fungus, slime, and mobile apps.”    Tula van Zon, 10-years-old

Canadian girls can learn about CAGIS at GirlsInScience.ca.

“The majority of our growth in the past has been through word-of-mouth; a member has fun and tells her friends,” added Vingilis-Jaremko. “We’re trying to expand our reach with an active social media presence, boosted posts, and by reaching out to publications across Canada to help spread the word!”


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