Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Why am I not a female scientist? I wanted to be, and I even entered my undergraduate studies with dreams of one day becoming a doctor. But, like many girls in the sciences, when the coursework became challenging, I lost the confidence in my ability to pursue my dream and complete my studies. I lacked a community of support to see me through the challenges; a group of women and girls that could speak from experience and help me see my potential and visualize my future in the sciences. Unfortunately my experience is not unique and one that is faced by so many girls and young women today.
I ended up completing my degree in Public Policy and Administration and spent the next 20 years working as a non-profit executive. But, over the past several years through my work as Executive Director of The NASCAR Foundation, I became increasingly aware of the disadvantages that girls and women still face in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) today. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs. A few of the contributing factors to this difference include: a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.
So, I founded Project Scientist in order to engage with and inspire my two daughters and other young girls with a passion for the STEM subjects. We just wrapped up our Project Scientist Academy, a four-week summer camp that provides an engaging and fun environment for girls, ages 4-12, with an aptitude, talent, and passion for STEM. The Academy brings together like-minded girls who enjoy exploring through the sciences and celebrating their accomplishments.
A key tent pole of our Academy and pipeline is the use of female STEM professionals from across the country and world for our mentorship program, which we call Project Scientist Superstars. Mentors have the opportunity to visit camp and lead a project with the girls, Skype with campers or do a video interview Q&A to share their personal story about what sparked their interest in the sciences and whom they count as personal mentors.
Throughout the recruitment process and on our Facebook page we've been asked a lot of questions about how to get started as a mentor or how someone can contribute. Schedules are always hectic, but the one resounding thing we heard was that women in STEM fields want to make the time, whatever that time may be, to help nurture the next generation of scientists.
If you are considering becoming a mentor, are a female in the STEM field, or have daughters, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Don't let the word "mentor" scare you. There are many ways you can make an impact in the lives of young girls, and not all have to be incredibly time consuming. Find a local organization, like Project Scientist, and reach out via Facebook or Twitter to see if they have opportunities to come speak to their girls. At Project Scientist we have our own program called Project Scientists Superstars and work with individuals to try and cater participation to each individual's needs.
Remember what inspired you. If you're not sure what to talk about, think about what it is about your field that inspires and excites you. Why did you decide to get involved? Did you love nature? Were you always wondering how things were constructed? Was there a female from your field or personal life that you looked up to? You never know, that same thing might light a spark in another young mind.
Just get out there! Start a blog, write an op-ed, join a local board or association, speak at a school, church, afterschool program or even just strike up a conversation with girls in your neighborhood. Use your social networks to promote cool things from your field and what fellow female scientists and girls are doing to excel in STEM. Be proud of what you've accomplished and share that journey with girls in your community.
Make a financial contribution. There are a lot of great nonprofit organizations trying to tip the scales in favor of the next generation of female scientists. Find your favorite and make a financial contribution to help enable these organizations to grow their programming and reach more girls.
At Project Scientist we just kicked off our first crowdfunding campaign. Funds raised will help us expand the Academy from four weeks to five weeks and increase our camper capacity from 50 to 100 girls. In addition, donations will help us extend programming throughout the school year with activities like "Science Saturdays" and field trips.
When deciding whether you want to become a mentor for girls within your field, remember how it felt to be one of the only girls in your science classes. We need girls to know that you all are out there, and that a scientist can look just like them. The more we can highlight and connect women from the field the greater chance we will have of helping girls discover the endless opportunities available to them and acquiring the leadership skills needed to thrive in today's STEM environments.
How will Donald Trump’s first 100 days impact YOU? Subscribe, choose the community that you most identify with or want to learn more about and we’ll send you the news that matters most once a week throughout Trump’s first 100 days in office. Learn more