By Veronica Penney, Lead Image Courtesy Girls Inc. Denver

The gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is well-documented, with women constituting just 30 percent of the STEM workforce. Girls Inc. of Metro Denver has launched a program to do help close that gap.  

Eureka! is a five-year program that runs year-round for girls in junior high and high school. Participants are admitted through a competitive application process, including a written application, letters of recommendation, and interviews.

The program aims to broaden the STEM-based academic and career interests of the girls participating in the program.

For us, it’s about exposing girls to multiple content areas in STEM and then letting them decipher what areas of STEM they really have an interest in,” explains Sonya Ulibarri, President and CEO of Girls Inc. of Metro Denver.

During the school year, Eureka! hosts two STEM Saturday sessions each month, in addition to offering a girls’ robotic team in the fall and girls’ coding parties in the spring. Each summer, Eureka! also hosts a four-week long, Monday through Friday immersive session that concentrates on eight different core, STEM content areas. The focus areas are Architecture and Construction, Energy and Renewable Energy, Engineering, Digital Technology, Food Systems, Biomedical Concepts, Computer Science, and Aerospace.

The girls in the Eureka! program, known as Eurekans, complete two summer internships through the course of the program. Eurekans can choose internships that align with their interests, which not only offers them the opportunity add depth to their STEM education, but also helps prepare them for the workforce by allowing them the opportunity to develop professional skills.

“We don’t just want girls to have fluency in the STEM area that they’re looking at interning in, but also basic job training skills; skills around tech management, communication, and professionalism,” says Ulibarri. “Even though Eureka! is a STEM program, it really utilizes this whole girl approach that Girls Inc. values.”

Despite the depth of the program, Ulibarri emphasizes the the importance of girls cultivating all of their interests.

“There are girls who are also involved in sports, volunteerism, and other types of programs in their schools and neighborhoods,” says Ulibarri. “We know that Girls Inc. can’t capture everything and meet every need a girl has, but we really want to make Eureka! something that is not difficult to participate in.”

Peer mentorship is a key component of Girls Inc. programs, and Eureka! has paired with Lockheed Martin, Comcast, and more to offer mentorships wand site visits. These mentorships are designed to offer Eurekans guidance from individuals who have already excelled in STEM fields.

The program, now in its second year, has seen some early success. The Eureka! robotics team placed 6th in the FIRST LEGO League robotics challenge here in Denver, marking the only all-girl team and the only team coached by a woman.

Each year, 30 new girls, known as Eurekans, are accepted into the program. Eureka! currently has 60 participants and will grow to its full size of 150 Eurekans in 2020.

“Many of the Eurekans are first-generation college students, and a number of the Eurekans are first-generation high school graduates,” says Ulibarri. “This kind of program, with the investment Girls Inc. is making and the investment that girls and families are making, is about generational change.”

“As they’re going into STEM degree fields and STEM careers, they are going to be change makers and they are going to be lynchpins in their families for this change to happen.”

One of the strengths of Eureka! is the program’s partnerships with local Denver STEM businesses. As Eureka! grows, Ulibarri will continue to build relationships with the local STEM community.

For more information on the program or how to get involved, head to the Eureka! website.