The Women’s Legacy Fund of Southwest Florida, a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, recently granted $20,000 to Florida Gulf Coast University’s Whitaker Center for STEM Education.
The Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) program will use the funding to mentor and inspire female FGCU students and middle school girls in Southwest Florida to pursue STEM careers by providing hands-on, inquiry-driven STEM activities via expertise at Whitaker Center for STEM Education. The program’s approach involves multiple layers of mentoring, including Whitaker Center mentoring during the activity development, female faculty mentoring female STEM majors at FGCU, and FGCU STEM majors mentoring middle school students. Four Saturday events are planned to reach a total of 400 middle school girls, 84 FGCU STEM majors and 24 middle school teacher participants.
“Despite significant advances in closing the gender gap in the workforce, women still remain underrepresented in many fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” said Dr. Laura Frost, director of the Whitaker Center. “Minority women are severely underrepresented in STEM majors and careers. Boys and girls take the same science courses in elementary, middle and high school, but fewer women pursue STEM majors in college.”
Frost said studies suggest that a combination of factors contributes to this underrepresentation, including negative stereotypes of female abilities in science and math and lower self-assessment of their science and math skills relative to males.
“Contributors to the Women’s Legacy Fund have a voice in the choice and selected the cause area of mentoring young women and girls as the 2016 grant area this year,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “This program that provides out-of-school programs and relatable mentors and role models is essential to closing the STEM career gap for all women. The WLF grants committee selected this project to help make difference right here in our own community.”
The fund represents a group of women who foster the immersion of women in philanthropy and develop the region’s next philanthropic leaders. In nine years, the fund has been able to provide more than $122,000 in grants to benefit people and communities in Southwest Florida. Founded in 1976, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, it partnered with individuals, families and corporations that created more than 400 philanthropic funds.