The Center for Women and Gender Studies celebrated Women’s History Month with 18 different events during March. For one of the events, the center partnered with alumna Danielle Blunt and her organization, Girls Inspired and Ready to Lead Inc. (G.I.R.L.), for a special career and empowerment conference for middle and high school-aged girls.
“I realized that these girls really needed more structured programs that focus on academic and social issues,” says Blunt, who earned a master’s degree in 2011 at Mason, an MAIS with a concentration in higher education. “I thought they needed help to navigate these challenges. High school is so different now, and there are so many different career options out there for them. They just need to be exposed to these jobs and have the support to pursue them.”
The conference included a parent session and workshops on STEM careers, bullying prevention, the impact of media on self-image and goal setting.
Prompted by a desire to help students overcome challenges, Blunt formed G.I.R.L. in the fall of 2009. It started with a small group of local middle and high school girls meeting at a community center in Fairfax.
Blunt’s idea grew. By the end of 2010, G.I.R.L. became a non-profit with structured programs that addressed academics, leadership skills, community service opportunities, positive self-image and healthy lifestyles. Today, more than 50 girls are active members in G.I.R.L. programs, and 55 middle school and high school-aged girls attended the conference at Mason in March.
During the morning sessions, attendees heard about STEM careers from speakers from the National Science Foundation and the United States Navy. Mason’s Amy VanMeter Adams, research specialist and director of the Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program, was also one of the speakers.
“I was delighted to join female STEM leaders from the university and community to speak with the bright, motivated young women about the value of getting involved in STEM research at an early age,” VanMeter Adams says. “This conference certainly shed light on the exciting paths that exist in the STEM fields. Having the opportunity to host this unique conference at Mason afforded us a tremendous opportunity to share the university’s investment in nurturing future STEM leaders.”
The girls then participated in an interactive STEM Mall in which they visited 15 tables to meet women involved in STEM careers and participate in hands-on activities. Participants in the mall included the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Food & Drug Administration, ExxonMobil Corporation, The SI Organization, Inc., University of Maryland Women in Engineering Program, The George Washington University, a Philadelphia University student and George Mason University students studying chemistry and information technology.
“I really wanted to expose my girls to different STEM career options,” says Blunt, who mentored elementary school students while an undergraduate student. “These jobs are critical to the economy, and women are underrepresented in them.”
While the girls learned about career choices, their parents sat in on a panel about preparing their daughters for STEM education with speakers from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Admissions Office and Mason’s “GeorgeSquared” Biomedical Sciences Programs.
In the afternoon, the girls had workshops about goal setting, led by a life coach; anti-bullying, led by a motivational speaker and author; and the media’s impact on self-esteem, led by a guidance counselor.
“I wanted to present the conference during March to celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day,” says Blunt. “The girls really seemed to enjoy it.”
Blunt says she hopes G.I.R.L. will continue to grow and partner with local organizations. In the future, she would like to open a G.I.R.L. center with more leadership programs and academic support for adolescent girls.
In additional to creating G.I.R.L., Blunt has worked in scholarship departments for two educational nonprofits for the last five years.