Designing interactive educational projects for girls to shape the future of female leaders in STEM

Supported by the National Science Foundation and UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, SISTERS is a theory-driven and technology-rich science education outreach program for girls. As a learning experience designer, I was responsible for mentoring the girls through after-school activities, field trips, and design challenges.

Role

Learning Experience Designer

My Contribution

For a full academic year, I participated in after-school activities and field trips as a mentor to the girls in two of the five elementary schools in the Encinitas Union School District. I also assisted in the design of project-based learning activities and SISTERS' annual design challenges.

Techniques

K12 Learning Experience Research & Design Methodologies

What is SISTERS

In STEM, she matters 🙆‍♀️

SISTERS is a three-year, theory-driven, technology-rich after-school science education outreach program for girls led by undergraduate students at UC San Diego. It is part of a research project supported by the National Science Foundation. SISTERS has reached more than 130 girls in 5th and 6th grade at four Encinitas elementary schools at which anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the students live below the poverty line. Featured on UCSD News Center.

Why SISTERS is important

"In ten years, I will become you" 👩‍🔬

In short words, SISTERS is important because it develops women's interest and confidence in STEM from a very young age through the mentorship from young female scientists and engineers, motivating them to involve in STEM.

Research indicates that girls’ interest and confidence in science begin to wane in middle school. The SISTERS program aims to fortify girls’ interest and confidence as they approach this critical juncture. SISTERS intentionally integrates thoughtful research and effective practices into a model that extends the science learning of 5th and 6th grade girls by reinforcing the school curriculum through socially relevant and engaging after-school, project-based activities, design challenges, family events, and field trips.

"Here at the Jacobs School of Engineering, we don't wring our hands about the low numbers of women in engineering. We reach out and do something about it." -- Albert P. Pisano, Ph.D. Dean, Jacobs School of Engineering
Girls watching their peer participating in an aerodynamic competition at the SISTERS design challenge

What I did

My year with SISTERS 👩‍👧‍👧

As an undergraduate student with a major in Computing & Arts and two minors in Computer Science and Photography at UC San Diego, I was fortunate to join SISTERS as a learning experience designer in my senior year.

For a full academic year, I participated in all after-school activities and field trips as a mentor to the girls in two of the five elementary schools in the Encinitas Union School District: Capri, Flora Vista, Ocean Knoll, Park Dale Lane, and Paul Ecke Central.

I also facilitated curriculum design and SISTERS' 2015 and 2016 annual design challenges.

SISTERS design challenge showcase: solar energy powered neighborhood with traffic light system
SISTERS design challenge showcase: a house with a solar lighting system

                                                                                                                              

What I learned

Her future is bright ✨

“We hope the engaging curriculum and the interaction with female scientists, engineers, and undergraduates will ignite their interest in careers in science and engineering in which women continue to be underrepresented” -- Dr. Mandy Bratton, Ph.D. Principal investigator of the SISTERS program
A girl participating in an aerodynamic competition at the SISTERS design challenge

I am very proud of being a mentor to the girls. It was a joyful and encouraging experience. A big THANK YOU to SISTERS program. Besides what Dr. Bratton said, I value the interactions with the girls because it was actually a mutual "mentorship". Not only I triggered their confidence and interest in STEM, but they also inspired me to think deeply about what we can do to help bring underrepresented groups on to the table.

I still remember Cindy, a shy girl with bright eyes who was quiet while her peers were actively making a solar-driven tank with mini solar panels and paper boxes. I could tell that she was very smart. She knew exactly how to make that tank, but was too shy to stop her teammates when they were connecting the battery in the wrong way, which caused the motor to broke.

Parents are proud of their kids' projects and achievements at SISTERS design challenge showcase

I noticed that and reached her privately after other kids left. I shared a story of my childhood. When she heard that the ten-year-old introversive me was too shy to stop a classmate from pouring oil to a plant in the classroom and the plant eventually died, she sighed, "How poor the flower! You should have stopped him!" I said, "Yeah, I wish I have done so and the plant did not die, so my classmate would not have to be punished by my teacher. You know what? When you see someone did something wrong without knowing it, it's not embarrassing to correct him. Instead, it's a kind, brave, and wise action. It's for preventing something bad from happening."

Similar situations happened a few times after that, and I could tell that Cindy was trying to be as proactively as she could in team projects. Her leadership had increased, other kids admired her, and her interest in science and engineering had been greatly developed.

I am glad that I could help many girls like Cindy to develop confidence and interest in the STEM field. As a learning experience designer, I know exactly that this is the point of SISTERS. Interactions with undergraduate “mentors” are designed to help the girls envision “possible selves” as future college students, scientists, and engineers. Come on girls, your future is bright! ✨

Girls and mentors at SISTERS 2016 annual design challenge showcase. I am not in the picture — I was photographing it 😉 📸