Supporting the educational pipeline, SWE, teachers, students, and STEM groups put their problem-solving skills to work, doing everything from distributing science kits to hosting virtual field trips to assigning lessons on the great outdoors.
By Sandra Guy, SWE Contributor
The COVID-19 STEM-learning response relied on local, individual, and heroic efforts among teachers, parents, nonprofits, membership societies, and others to keep learning forging ahead virtually. Crucial to the STEM pipeline, these dedicated individuals and groups have come through with aplomb and a can-do spirit.
SWE’s High School Leadership Academy (SHLA) and SWENext clubs moved to online activities that continued to engage — and even increase — participation. SWE headquarters staff and SWE committee volunteers throughout the world created virtual meeting guides for the Society’s 271 SWENext clubs for girls in middle and high school, chock-full of ideas on ways to keep the young members engaged on Zoom. SWENext counts 5,144 members overall, including some not connected to a club — mostly high-schoolers — throughout the world.
“We focused on fun and engaging, interactive activities, like having the girls do a hands-on activity or a project with their parents, versus only having them sit and listen to someone talk ‘at’ them about a given topic or engineering discipline,” said Markita Riley, SWE’s student programs coordinator.
The activity kits listed materials that anyone would have around the house, enabling SWENext participants to get creative and solve problems without buying new materials. “The goal was to make everyone feel special and included,” Riley said. “Setting this goal allowed SWENexters to know that it doesn’t take a lot to build your STEM identity … just a little motivation and engagement, which I think this year has taught all of us to appreciate what’s in front of us.”
student programs coordinator
Society of Women Engineers
Photo credit: Forty Photography
The COVID-19 shutdown actually expanded outreach because Riley was able to match SWE professionals with about 60 SWENext clubs that had been waiting to find a SWE member to serve as their club counselor. “We’re no longer limited by geography,” Riley said of her ability to match SWE professionals with SWENext clubs remotely.
The SWENext High School Leadership Academy (SHLA) got a boost, too. The virtual and recorded webinars and presentations during this year’s two-part virtual annual conference received a total of 771 online content views. A total of 233 attended live. That compared with 135 participants at last year’s in-person SHLA conference.
“To show how dedicated these students were, we had students from across the world logging in at 1 o’clock in the morning to catch a live session, but we also took this into account by offering on-demand recordings of all live events,” Riley said. The programming also included program tracks with sessions on topics such as leadership, college preparation, STEM pathways, inclusion and cultural awareness, and self-development, including networking with peers and professionals.
SWE now plans to offer the virtual programming year-round for SWENext members, and in July 2020, started making the SHLA video playlist available on SWENext’s YouTube channels — one curated for high-school girls and the other for middle-school girls.
A groundswell of support
SWE global ambassador Stella Uzochukwu-Denis, an electrical engineer in her native Nigeria, said her organization — Odyssey Educational Foundation — sent money for recharge cards to her SWENext club so that club members could subscribe to the internet from their wireless phones.
The foundation also organized free online classes from May 1 to June 1, 2020, to teach the girls how to make business cards by using apps on their phones. The girls earned their own money by making business cards for clients. The girls then spent that money to purchase data so they could stay online, and some joined Odyssey’s online coding class. And since COVID cases stabilized in August 2020 in Nigeria — the sub-Saharan African continent’s most populous nation — the SWENext club started an in-person class with COVID rules in place.