The Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program was founded in the early months of 2018 by Kathryn Hong, a Master's student in Medical Sciences at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Kathryn's love of science began young, though she credits her experience with mentorship for keeping her passion alive and providing her the determination she needed to get to where she is today. Seeing first-hand the kind of barriers women face when pursuing education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) – and knowing her experience with mentorship was unique – Kathryn became passionate about giving young people the opportunity to experience what she had growing up. For Kathryn, intervention in high school and late elementary is critical: students need to be given the chance to explore STEM before post-secondary so that they're able to make informed decisions about their futures. To tackle women's under-representation in STEM, more than awareness is needed – we need mentorship.
And so the Girls SySTEM Mentorship Program was born. We believe our program provides a space for encouragement, which many young girls with an interest in science go without. We want to inspire the next generation of STEM innovators, one representative of a breadth of life experiences. In a world that's becoming more and more technical, giving students the tools to understand and explore STEM is synonymous with giving them tools to change the world – at the very least, we like to think so! The team at Girls SySTEM is incredibly passionate; we hope we're able to pass this passion on to you.
My mentee was in grade 9 and she brought her brother too, which was fun. Of course, the Zoom is not the same thing as face to face meeting, but still it was very enjoyable. I had shown my lab to girls before, explained in very simple terms what I do, and this created an avalanche of questions! This time this was not possible, so she asked me what education I have had, if I had to have always high marks etc. I tried to explain that it is important to try to "link" things together, not just learn by heart and that putting things in the broader context is the way to understand their importance better. I explained the differences between an MD degree and a PhD, the importance of research, eg now that we badly need a vaccine. She said "I want to change the world" and I said yes, you can change the world, and in many different ways.
- Kingston Mentor 2021
We want to challenge the myth that some people are somehow less suited to work in STEM because of their gender identity, and we think we can do this best through mentorship. In giving participants the opportunity to acquire first-hand knowledge of STEM early on in their academic careers, they build the confidence they need in order to pursue their passions in fields that often exclude them. This is especially important in late-elementary and high school, an age at which kids begin to seriously think about their futures.
"When one teaches, two learn."-- Robert Heinlein. While providing advice and sharing my personal experience with my mentee, I have learned first-hand from my mentee about topics on confidence, perseverance, societal expectations and other issues (e.g. preconceptions about science and higher education) facing women and high school students in general. This experience has provided me an insight on how professors could play a key role in strengthening the interactions between themselves and first-year undergraduate students coming from high-school especially women considering STEM in the first year.
-Kingston Mentor 2021
We would like to see a world in which all students, regardless of their gender, are considered and encouraged to be bright and innovative. We want all populations to have the confidence to pursue work in a field of their choosing, rather than career paths they are told they are "naturally" better suited for. Finally, we would like to see a future where there is gender parity in the STEM workforce.