Summer program helps young women get involved in STEM careers

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RADFORD, Va. (WDBJ7)— A group of high school girls has spent an entire week building rockets and learning about STEM-focused careers at Radford University.

The Summer Bridge Program is a week long, residential STEM experience to help young women in high school to have a science and technology experience.

“We’ve looked for girls who want to experience science in a different way and in a way that helps encourage and empower them,” said Summer Bridge Program Director David Horton. “One of the real challenges we have in STEM is that young women do really well up to about the intermediate school level and then we find there’s a big drop off as they go into high school and college. We’re trying to counteract that by promoting STEM here at Radford University and throughout the state.”

Building and launching rockets this week was something the girls just couldn’t get enough of.

“It has been an absolute blast,” said rising junior Shauna Shepard. “We have gotten to do so much cool stuff that I never got to do back home. I learned how to program in three days.”

“It’s been amazing,” said rising sophomore Alexa Huggins. “I don’t really get as much of an opportunity to explore my interest back home, especially because it’s hard to tailor classes like astrophysics.”

The program lets these young ladies know they can do anything they set their minds to.

“We want them to have a taste of what’s available to sort of create a spark and maybe help that grow into a passion,” Horton said.

“It’s been really eye-opening for me to see how many other girls share my interest because especially living where I do, it’s kind of strange to be the one wanting to go out and do the science and math,” Shepard said.

“For girls going into STEM, it’s been an amazing thing to be able to be around people that are just like you, other females in STEM,” said rising senior Meghan Brown.

Huggins and Shepard said they would love to do this program again next summer. The rockets and robots group was one of four programs the girls could try in STEM related fields.

Brown said this program has confirmed her career aspirations after high school.

Horton said about 10 percent of the girls come back another year and even try other tracks. There were about 40 participants in the entire program this summer.

It is fairly competitive to get in, only about half of those who apply are accepted. The university has private fundraising to the Radford University Foundation to help these girls participate for free.

Horton said it was simply a happy coincidence that the idea of building rockets happened on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.