Over the past month, 20 local teenage girls have participated in the first phase of an intensive three-year program called designed to introduce them to science, technology, engineering and math fields.
They will be sharing what they’ve learned this summer on Thursday with their families and program supporters at a gathering they've dubbed Eurekathon.
Participants come from Nea, Wood and Lincoln Middle Schools in Alameda, the Academy of Alameda, Oakland School of the Arts, Corpus Christi School and Montera Junior High School in Oakland and Leadership High School in Hayward.
Cristales says the girls were selected not necessarily because they already excel in science, technology, engineering and math but because they exhibited an interest and willingness to explore those subjects. Most of the girls were new to Girls, Inc. this summer but some have been members of the organization for several years.
During the first two summers, the girls will spend four weeks participating in hands-on activities in math, science, technology, sports, personal development and career exploration. During the third summer they will be offered a four-week internship.
This summer the girls’ primary focus was on architecture and engineering — but they also took self-defense classes, played ultimate Frisbee and did basketball drills.
"If they can become confident in one area, they can transfer that confidence to other areas,” Cristales said.
The program encourages girls to not back down and be silenced. “We found as the weeks went on that the quiet girls were getting much louder,” she said, noting a key goal of Eureka! is to give the girls a chance to assert themselves.
Providing access and exposure to things they might not normally experience is also a goal. The girls visited Chabot Science Center in Oakland, studied architecture at Mills College, visited California State University East Bay, completed a ropes course at the University of California, Berkeley and heard from female scientists and other role models about various non-traditional career options.
They have also designed their own websites, learned how to use social networks and received tips on how to market and present themselves.
“I’ve really grown, myself, just being around the girls,” said Cristales, who says its heartening to see so many of the girls “come out of their shells."
Akima Brackeen, who holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture and community design, and who was one of their teachers this summer, says she, too, is pleased with how open the girls were to trying new things. “They really extended their comfort zones when challenged,” she said.
When polled midway through the summer session, the girls imagined themselves holding all sorts of careers, including criminal psychologist, homicide detective, photographer, musician, pharmacist, chemist, veterinarian, actress, pediatrician, zoologist, animator, lawyer, designer, author, artist, physical therapist, special education teacher, chef, fashion designer and retail store owner. A number of the girls imagined having multiple different careers in their lifetime.
Some of the girls said they now are considering working in science careers in part because women are under-represented in those fields. Education beyond high school seemed to be on all of their minds. One girl said although she doesn't yet know what she wants to do when she grows up, she now definitely knows she wants to go to college.
The girls said they saw real value in participating in Eureka!, predicting it will broaden their horizons and show future employers and college admissions representatives that they are serious, hard-working high achievers.
“My being in Eureka! will help me show my younger cousins not to be like my older ones and drop out of high school, but to have ambition, instead," said one participant.
“Eureka! helps me understand how life is going to be as I get older," said another.
Others said that Eureka! has taught them how to interact with strangers from different backgrounds, how to make friends with people they’ve never met before and how to communicate and speak in front of an audience.
One participant said she most enjoyed the classes in architecture and math. “There is no one to tell me I cannot do it," she said.
Another added, “I think “Eureka!” will help me in life to be a strong, smart and bold woman and may even help me to be almost everything I want to be.”