Wayne State Uses Social Media to Mentor Girls in Science, Tech

10/21/11Follow @XconomyDET

Wayne State University announced last week that it has received a $1.7 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health to increase the interest of metro Detroit girls in health-related “STEM” disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Sally K. Roberts, faculty adviser for WSU’s Gaining Options-Girls Investigate Real Life (GO-GIRL) program, will oversee the program, which aims to reach female students in grades 8 through 12 with summer academies, academic-year chats over refreshments for girls and parents, and continuous mentoring support by WSU undergraduate women students through social networking sites and other technology.

Roberts says the girls will use iPods while the mentors use iPads to communicate throughout the school year using a “Twitteresque” texting tool. Mentors will use the texts to portray their lives as science students, posting status updates when they’ve learned something new and exciting or even when they’re doing something mundane like studying.

“Most of it will be closed discussions, but there will be some crossover into platforms like Facebook,” Roberts adds. “Even though we hear from the girls that it’s becoming less cool, it still suits our purposes. Little girls seem to want to be rock stars or doctors. We’d like to expose them to the broad spectrum of health and science jobs in between.”

Participation in the newly funded program will be dependent on the students’ previous participation in GO-GIRL as a 7th grader. Organizers say more than 600 adolescent girls have participated in the GO-GIRL program since it was originally funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation in 2002. Last semester, girls from 57 middle schools and 22 communities in metro Detroit took part in programs such as “GO-GIRL Nano” and GO-GIRL Cyber.” Though demographics vary from year to year, Roberts notes most of the girls in the program are African-American—an underrepresented voice that is vital to include in health-related STEM fields.

“So many programs get kids excited but then kind of disappear,” Roberts says. “We hope, though social media and face-to-face contact, that we’ll keep them engaged. We cheerlead so they continue to make good choices and no doors are closed on them.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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