Mentors can be crucial when it comes to supporting women in STEM classes or those working in STEM-related fields. Sometimes it’s most effective to have someone who’s been in the field a long time offering support; other times it’s best to have someone closer to your age and experience. Luckily, the Upper School’s GRIT club offers both.
GRIT (Girls Rising in Technology) exists “to give the motivation, the support, the encouragement, and the inspiration to girls that have the potential to succeed in STEM,” says Stephanie Heggli-Nonay ’21, the club’s co-president. “The acronym stands for exactly what we need every day in classes where we’re still underrepresented; we need grit every day to be heard in our classes. And our acronym represents what we proudly believe: girls are rising in technology.”
Two of GRIT’s most popular programs deal with mentorship. The club’s student mentorship program, launched last year, pairs female freshmen and sophomores with juniors and seniors who have taken the class the younger student is currently enrolled in. The more experienced students are available to offer support and advice, from solving tricky worksheets to navigating tough classes. “The fact that mentors have gone through that same path and those same classes at the same level definitely helps. Especially because we’ve gone through it very recently; that knowledge is really valuable,” says Heggli-Nonay.
The other mentorship angle in GRIT comes from their speaker series, in which women currently working in STEM talk to the club members about making a career out of a passion for science, math, and technology.
“They bring that advice of how to work in the STEM field—what it’s like, how they can speak up when there might just be two women in the room,” Heggli-Nonay says. “But they also give advice on what it’s like to work on a certain project, how they got there, the classes they took in college, and how they sought out resources to be successful in their careers.”
A recent speaker, Luda Bujoreanu, talked about her work at the World Bank that uses technology to help people living in poverty—including enabling people to track the spread of a disease harming the Ugandan banana crop.
“She talked about how she was using drones to map really remote villages and how she was using the internet to make IDs for people because, without IDs, they can’t get jobs or access resources,” Heggli-Nonay says. Bujoreanu also described how the World Bank used a tool to text hundreds of thousands of Ugandans simultaneously, asking recipients to share where they had spotted the banana crop disease—something that led to an entire map of the disease’s geography within a few hours.
Heggli-Nonay emphasizes that GRIT isn’t just for those who are particularly gifted in STEM, or who definitely want to pursue it as a career. “You don’t have to want to cure cancer one day or be a math genius to come to GRIT,” she says. Students are welcome to drop by if they need one-time help or to gain confidence in their STEM classes. “One piece of advice that I would give to girls in STEM at all levels is just speak out all the time. Raise your hand in class. You honestly have nothing to lose by offering an answer to a question. Even if you answer incorrectly, you’ll learn from that.
“I have this poster that says ‘everything you want is on the other side of fear,’” she continues. “And that’s exactly how I feel. Even if you’re scared about asking for help in class, there’s so much that you can gain on the other side if you just take that risk.”