A college near the Twin Cities seeks to stoke up interest in STEM. One hundred middle school girls attended a unique and free program at the University of St. Thomas (UST). The one-day camp, sponsored by the Science, Technology, and Engineering Preview Summer (STEPS) Program, endeavored to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. One of the many things in science, tech, and engineering the girls explored was how to construct a dry ice rocket. Additionally, they dove into chemical reactions, pressure, and states of matter.

Besides arming the girls with STEM knowledge and the tools to follow their dreams in those fields, STEPS hoped to break barriers regarding timidity in trying new things. STEPS program coordinator Michael Gerard added: “People are often timid when they’re confronted with a new experience, and so that’s one of the barriers we’re trying to break is having them come to the space and have a fun, successful day.”

A STEPS instructor, Becky Riethmeier, hopes the free program will expand the girls’ curiosity “and the understanding of ‘Oh, I can do that.’ So, the next time they come across a microscope or a physics challenge, they can go, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve done that; I can do that again.’”

STEPS aims to do more no-cost “summer day-long engineering programs” for middle school girls. UST also has big plans to continue its campaign to bridge the gap for women and girls in STEM. Currently, they’re constructing a state-of-the-art STEAM facility, the Schoenecker Center, that’ll combine music, engineering, and science learning for a collaborative experience.

Unfortunately, there’s still a significant gender disparity in STEM. While the number of women enrolling in STEM courses increased by 24 percent between 2015 and 2020, only 15 percent of women were reported to have a STEM career in 2021. That’s a devastatingly small percentage compared to men in the same occupations.

Thankfully, institutions like the University of St. Thomas are dedicated to encouraging our girls to reach for the STEM stars. We’re grateful to be a small yet crucial part of that movement.