Fourteen years ago, Mildred Currie, a science teacher at Moultrie Middle School in Mt. Pleasant, founded a group to address this very issue. She called the group Women-in-Charge: Engineering Women’s Lives. The purpose was to increase interest in science and math careers for low and middle income female students. Ms. Currie envisioned a two year science and math course for seventh and eighth grade female students based on research that showed girls need encouragement to pursue math and science coursework and careers.
Deborah Belflower, a current teacher at Seneca Middle School, taught at Moultrie Middle School and was a consultant for WIC. After arriving at Seneca Middle School, she could see the same needs for seventh and eighth grade girls in SDOC and decided to establish a sister chapter of the Women-in-Charge program at Moultrie Middle School at SMS. Ms. Belflower and Delaine Childress currently manage the program.
The goals for the program are to increase interest in math and science careers among these girls, to encourage young girls to step out of their comfort zone in meeting new people and experiencing new challenges, to help young women take control of their choices so they can make their dreams a reality, and to break down the mysteries of how to pursue different professional goals.
Women-in-Charge candidates are selected based on grades, test scores and teacher recommendations. Teachers watch for girls who are silent learners in classes, too. Last year, the program consisted of 44 seventh and eighth grade girls. The group works on skills such as speaking out in class and making informed decisions. WIC also provides female speakers who work in non-traditional roles and takes the group to visit local industries.
Last year, one meeting was sponsored by iTron, one of the program sponsors. Students not only benefited from hearing employees in various areas describe their work and areas of expertise but also had the opportunity to learn from their tour guides, two Clemson University co-op students, about how participation in a cooperative education program at a university benefits both educationally and professionally. iTron also provided space and time for a roundtable discussion where the students listened to a group of successful, professional women talk about their careers, their educational choices and the obstacles they have experienced and overcome as they pursue STEM careers.
WIC began its second year this fall by featuring a handful of accomplished female Clemson University upperclassmen who are pursuing degrees and careers in the sciences. The Clemson students met with the school’s Women in Charge (WIC) group for a discussion roundtable. The group broke into small question and answer groups to discuss educational experiences, post-graduate plans and the paths the students had taken to find their places in fields usually dominated by men.
“We are always on the lookout for speaker and field trip opportunities,” said Ms. Belflower. “We are scheduled to take a trip to visit Epcot and Kennedy Space Center in the spring and will take the girls to Clemson to take the biology merit exam in April.”