The Research Triangle Park

Partner Profile: Q and A With Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy

By Sep 29, 2014

This is the first post in a series titled Partner Profiles, where US2020 will share the story of how our nonprofit, corporate, school, and university partners are contributing to a STEM education community of practice.

Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy is one of US2020 RTP’s partners that will host direct to school mentor opportunities starting this fall. I spoke with the STEM and Career Development Coordinator, Diane Cadavid, about girls in STEM, single sex education, and partnering with US2020.

Can you explain what your role is at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy?

As the Career Development Coordinator I serve students in the manner of a career counselor. In this role I help students identify their interest and skills, explore careers and facilitate work-based learning. In addition, I’m the liaison to our business partners that support our programs and provide opportunities to our students. As the STEM Coordinator I develop, implement, and monitor our school’s STEM program. I work directly with our school administration to help assess the professional development needs of our staff and secure resources to provide training. I market our school programs and work hard to engage the community helping our students become college and career ready.

How do you think attending a single gender school affects a girl’s education?

I believe in single gender education so much that I send both my children to the Men’s and Women’s Leadership Academy. Single gender education truly allows students to develop their confidence and self-esteem without the pressures of the opposite sex. There are fewer distractions in the classroom being in a single gender environment. In addition, girls and boys learn differently and having them in separate learning environments helps teachers meet the needs of their students.

Why do you think STEM education is so important for girls?

Women are underrepresented in STEM. While women make up half the national workforce, they occupy 25% of STEM positions. As a career counselor I see that statistically, girls are interested in careers that are related to helping other people such as nurses or teachers. If we can show girls how STEM careers benefit others, they will be more likely to pursue these fields.

There needs to be more opportunities for girls in STEM and for them to be able to identify with professional women STEM role models. That is one reason why I am so excited to partner with US2020. Through the US2020 network I am able to connect mentors with our students to assist with programs such as Science Olympiad, Tech Savvy Girls, advisory classes, job shadowing, and internships.

Is there an age where you see girls becoming less interested in STEM? Is there a particular aspect of STEM that they are more or less interested in?

Unfortunately, I do see that the high school students I serve are less interested in STEM than the middle school students. For example, we have a computer science club at WYWLA called Tech Savvy Girls which has close to 30 students. In this club they are learning how to develop apps for the Android tablet with the help from two volunteers from SAS. Of these 30 girls, only 4 are in the high school. I feel our high school students are less interested in computer science and IT fields even though there is a high demand for employees in that industry. Students love using technology in and out of the classroom. We are fortunate to have iPads, laptops, and SMART devices for students and teachers to use. Our teachers use a variety of applications to engage and enhance teaching and learning.

I am currently looking for ways and ideas to help our high school students see that technology is not only fun to use, but it can be extremely rewarding to pursue a career in IT. Our high school students truly enjoy the sciences such as Biology and Chemistry and do quite well in Mathematics. This may be because they see a natural relationship from those classes to careers in health science. We have to help our girls understand that as leaders they need to pursue careers where women are underrepresented.

WYWLA is committed to educating first generation college students. Do you feel like this affects student’s interest in STEM careers?

I don’t believe that this has any effect on their interest in STEM careers. They may come to us with less of an interest in STEM, however, it is our job to expose them to a variety of STEM careers.

What kind of support systems do you think students need to believe they can succeed in STEM careers?

They need a mentor program such as US2020. This is a wonderful way to connect students to people who work in these fields. Anyone who truly enjoys their work is excited to share their career expertise and knowledge with students. It’s fantastic to see the mentors come in and spend time with our students, taking students under their wing, guiding them, and helping them see the connection of what they learn in school and how it applies in the real world. In addition, students need to be pushed and encouraged by their parents to pursue STEM careers.

How do you feel STEM mentoring with US2020 will be helpful for your students?

STEM mentoring with US2020 is an extraordinary opportunity for students to see that there are adults who want to help them. They also see that there are adults giving back just for the sake of giving. Mentors are not only exposing our students to the many different career pathways but they are helping students see their own potential and challenging them to go further. Our mentors help students set career goals and start taking steps to realize them.

What I envision through the US2020 STEM mentoring program is for the mentor to develop a relationship where they guide the mentee in setting career goals, invite them to job shadow, connect them to other professionals in their network, and host them as an intern by their senior year. As their mentee enters college, I can see the mentor checking in and continuing to guide them along their college and career pathway. Ultimately that mentee lands a job working for that mentor. This mentee then in turns gives back and becomes a mentor for a young lady at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy where it all started.