Inspiring and Empowering Local Girls Through ‘Girls Can Do It!’

Trinity Students Mentor Girl Scouts in STEM-focused Community Project

​Hartford, Connecticut, April 27, 2016 – Trinity students are the driving force behind “Girls Can Do It!” – a program designed to interest members of a local Girl Scouts troop in the engineering and computer science fields. With support from Trinity’s Women & Gender Resource Action Center (WGRAC) and the College’s Advancement Office, computer science and engineering students sought and were awarded funding from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) through its Campus Action Projects (CAP) program.

"Girls Can Do It!" participants from Trinity and the Girl Scouts gather at ​Bellizzi Asian Studies Academy in Hartford.
"Girls Can Do It!" participants from Trinity and the Girl Scouts gather at ​Bellizzi Asian Studies Academy in Hartford.

Project co-leader Giselle Garcia ’16, an engineering major who served for two summers as a robotics specialist for the Trinity Dream Camp robotics program, said it was relatively easy to adapt the Dream Camp robotics curriculum for use in this project. As outlined in the Girls Can Do It! grant proposal, a key goal is to introduce young girls to the possibilities of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in their lives today and in the future. The project is designed to “inspire young girls to cultivate interest in these fields and foster life attributes, such as problem-solving, empowerment, and overcoming obstacles.” According to Garcia, another objective is to build a stronger community among Trinity women enrolled in engineering and computing classes. Several of the participating Trinity students are members of the College’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.

Laura Lockwood, director of WGRAC, and John Mertens, chair and professor of Trinity’s Engineering Department, serve as mentors for the program. The group’s local AAUW liaison is Donna Haghighat ’89, who is co-president of AAUW Connecticut. Additionally, when the Aurora Women & Girls Foundation sought to thank Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney for serving as keynote speaker at Aurora’s annual fall breakfast by contributing to a worthy educational program involving women and girls, Berger-Sweeney selected Girls Can Do It! to receive further funding support.

Lockwood said she was glad to support the project because, “the stigma and gender-based stereotypes that still surround girls and STEM create internal and external barriers for girls who wish to pursue these fields.” Lockwood, along with the group of students, hopes to encourage and inspire young girls to get involved in STEM fields at a young age and to set achievable goals for their futures.

Trinity students​ Ilan Crawley '19, left, and Giselle Garcia '16, right, work with two of the Girs in Girls Can Do It
Trinity students​ Ilan Crawley '19, left, and Giselle Garcia '16, right,
work with two of the Girls Scouts participating in "Girls Can Do It!"

The Trinity students are meeting for five sessions this spring with the participating Girl Scouts, ages 5-9, at their school in the south end of Hartford, Bellizzi Asian Studies Academy. In one of the sessions, the Girl Scouts responded to questions, including, “What do you think of when you hear the word ‘engineer’?” and “If you could create an app for your cellphone, what would it be?” From room-cleaning apps to video-calling apps, the girls were proud to share their ideas with their troop leaders and with the Trinity students. Participants were organized into teams consisting of Girl Scouts and Trinity students and given the task of building a robot, using Lego Mindstorms kits. Once constructed, each group’s robot was hooked up to a computer, and the Trinity students introduced the girls to computer programming.

Project co-leader Claudia Trafton ’16 will present the results of the Girls Can Do It! program at the AAUW National Conference for College Women Student Leaders at the University of Maryland in June. Trafton, a computer science major, said she enjoys watching the girls’ progress. “Data shows us that girls start to lose their confidence around middle school age, so giving them an opportunity to build their confidence now in STEM is really important,” said Trafton.

Girl Scout Troop Leader Samantha Altius said she incorporates the lessons shared by the Trinity students into her weekly troop meetings. Altius has noticed significant changes in the girls’ attitudes since they have begun working with the team from Trinity. She has seen the girls adopt an openness to discussing project ideas and she has observed that they are becoming more comfortable in a mixed-gender classroom setting. Altius said, “The girls believe that if a man can do it, a woman can do it also.”

The troop leaders also strive to set a good example by explaining the steps they took to pursue their careers. They discuss college majors and paths to success in order to inspire the girls and show that aspirational goals in STEM fields are tangible. In conjunction with the Trinity students, the troop leaders offer their own real-life examples of aspirations that girls can reach with confidence and hard work.

Written by Liz A. Boyhan ’18 and Kathy Andrews

Photos by Diana Guay Photography.