#SheStartedIt: Meet the Founders of ESTEAM, empowering girls through education

What did you start?

Alexis: I started the She Started It ESTEAM SUMMIT for Girls in Charlottesville, Virginia, a free, day-long event for girls in grades K-12. Inspired by the She Started It documentary, I brought together four other dynamic ladies in education and STEM to organize the event. Participants enjoyed workshops, entrepreneurship and engineering challenges, a screening of the film, panel discussions, and hands on activities throughout the day. Girls were also exposed to career options in STEAM fields, and had the opportunity to network with local female mentors in the fields of entrepreneurship, science, technology, engineering, art, education, astronomy, culinary arts and food science, health, fitness, and medicine, environmental science, intelligence, and math.

Just the Facts: Over 300 girls attempted to register for the event. Registration was expanded and this year over 150 girls joined mentors and role models throughout the region, including 30 workshop facilitators, 35 community and 15 student volunteers, sponsorship from 13 business and community organizations.

Heather: I started the Women’s STEM Forum in 2015, a free event that brought together women mentors with students in grades 6–11 in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. The event included speed mentoring, inspirational speakers and activities. The event has been held for the past three years, and aims to reach students in rural communities that do not have access to resources or programs. I helped start the She Started It ESTEAM SUMMIT for Girls in Charlottesville, Virginia, with 4 other amazing women. The SUMMIT was a free, day-long event for girls in grades K-12.

Alexis Mason — Ed Power Founder & Educator, Kim Wilkens — Tech-Girls Founder & K-8 Computer Science Coordinator, Joyce Ivory — Human Resource Specialist & Doctoral Candidate, Heather Arquitt — Women’s STEM Forum Organizer & Scientist, Zoë Padrón — All Paths Are Good Consulting & Educator.

Why did you want to start it?

Alexis: As a mom of three girls and an educator, I know there is immeasurable return when you can create spaces for girls to explore their interests, develop passions, recognize their own strengths, and learn from other women. Unfortunately, the highs and lows many women experience as they pursue their passions and careers are eye-opening to many as they highlight some unhealthy gender dynamics at play in the currently male-dominated professional spaces. It was important to our ESTEAM organizing team that we make the issues visible, and that budding entrepreneurs and those interested in STEAM careers know that it’s okay to take risks, try new things, and most importantly, to go after something they are truly passionate about. We also wanted to bring together local stakeholders interested in addressing gender barriers and empowering girls to blaze new trails.

Heather: I knew when I was a young girl that I loved science, however I was the first one in my extended family to ever attend college. My parents did not know how to guide my aspirations and I was a shy kid who didn’t know how to get where my dreams wanted to take me. Once I had children and realized my daughter loved science I began entering her into every program I could to encourage her love of learning. I started to think of the kids who did not have the same opportunities and parents who did not have the knowledge or resources to help their children. Around this time my daughter was in the sixth grade and her friend told her that “girls don’t do science.” Shocked that this assertion and bias still existed, I started to ask myself “What can I do?”

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Alexis: Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur or thinking entrepreneurially to chart your own path, spend time reflecting on your strengths and areas of improvement in order to develop a clear sense of what you need to propel yourself forward. It is a powerful thing to know what you do well and can act on independently, but it is just as impactful to have confidence in articulating a vision for yourself and what you may need from others to help you reach your goals.

Heather: Use your resources. There are people around you who have dreams and aspirations, ideas and experiences. I started the STEM forum by speaking to a woman in my company who empowered me to do something. She gave me perspective and shared her insights. Knowledge is power and lets you feel confident and ready to take on the world.



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She Started It

Empowering the next generation of women founders through media. She Started It, a feature documentary film -request a screening: http://shestarteditfilm.com/