*Last names of some students held for privacy.
Anahi is a middle school student in Los Angeles, California. Last year, as a fifth-grader at Fenton Elementary School, she took a self-assessment test and gave herself a “1” – the lowest rating — in terms of confidence level and the ability to learn new and challenging things. Ten weeks later, she changed that rating to a “5” – the highest on the scale.
This transformation was the result of her experience in a Creative Electronics program. Anahi took part in the 10-week-long session hosted by DIY Girls, an organization that aims to increase young girls’ interest and abilities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) subjects.
Predominantly serving the Northeast San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, and working with a mostly Latina student-base in the fifth to 12th grade age range, DIY Girls offers after-school and summer programs and provides a unique hands-on experience. Students learn technical skills and transfer them into real-world applications and creative project inventions.
Anahi is one of the nearly 3,800 students who have participated in DIY Girls since 2012. Many of them come from under-resourced communities or challenging circumstances, and may not otherwise have access to STEM-focused experiences.
Anahi, for example, lives with her grandparents, one of whom is paralyzed and the other unable to drive. Anahi learned about DIY Girls through a recruitment workshop at her school. She quickly realized she didn’t want to miss out on this unique opportunity. So the fifth-grader filled out her own application and asked her grandmother to sign the form. She then attended all sessions of the 10-week program.
STEAM for Girls – Empowerment from the Start
“Women, especially women of color, remain largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields,” says DIY Girls Executive Director Leticia Rodriguez in an interview with Parentology.
In fact, women currently represent 25% of the STEAM workforce. Latinas make up only 2% of that number according to the non-profit’s website. And the problem starts early; less than 15% of girls at the critical age of fourth through eighth grade show an interest in STEAM.
“This is why it’s so important to have an organization like DIY Girls that shows girls as early as elementary school that job opportunities like these exist, while also encouraging them to believe in themselves and their ability to be successful in STEM,” Rodriguez says.
She adds, “We want the girls we serve to be the next great creators and innovators of technology, designing, and prototyping products that address many of the challenges we face as a society.”
The organization has already proved to be a springboard for innovation. In 2017, as part of the DIY Girls Invent Girls program, a group of high school students designed and built a solar-powered backpack tent for San Fernando Valley’s homeless community. Through DIY Girls, they learned skills like coding, operating a 3D printer, sewing and soldering to create a prototype. The 12-girl group went on to win a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT program to put toward the invention.
Giving Back While Moving Forward
They first join as students, but some DIY Girls participants come back as mentors for others seeking a STEAM education.
Patricia Cruz was one of the high school students who worked on the aforementioned solar-powered tent project. Now a student at California State University, Northridge, she acts as a mentor to younger students like fifth-grader Yaneli, who completed the Creative Electronics program in the 2018-2019 fall session.
“When I grow up I want to create a robot for people who have disabilities,” Yaneli shared with DIY Girls. “The robot will help them to create art so even if they have missing limbs, they can still paint and draw.”
With the knowledge and skills she’s gained, Yaneli is well on her way to doing just that — and by doing so, helping to reshape the industry.
“Ultimately, the STEM sector should be an arena of ideas that welcomes diversity in all of its forms,” Rodriguez says, “and that includes more women of color, especially in leadership roles.”