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STEM In The Community

Challenging, Muddy Semester of STEM

We first met Meriby Sweet at our Cape Cod Regional STEM Network Event in September, 2016. That’s where she told us about Coastal Studies for Girls, a Semester School immersion in science and leadership. CSG is based on the coast of Maine. But what Meriby described—an experiential school that teaches marine science, prepares students to engage in science beyond high school, and is tremendously fun—made us think something like this would be great for high school girls on Cape Cod. Since that event, we’ve followed up with Meriby, who serves on CSG’s board and invited her to tell us more about the program. What she told us follows, in her own words.

A few years ago, I was invited to hear students from Coastal Studies for Girls present their research at Bowdoin College. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting anything like what I saw: here were tenth-grade girls talking about projects that sounded like ​theses defenses.

I joined the board because I believed something this powerful deserved support from every corner.

My background ​is in English and Theater, but after a career working with tech startups, I know smoke and mirrors when I see it.  And this is not smoke and mirrors. This is a program that truly inspires and prepares young women as scientists.

While we know girls are smart and capable, our culture sometimes influences their perceptions of themselves and too often leads them away from STEM disciplines. 

In this semester-long curriculum, there is attention to marine science, of course. Activities include mudflat and tidal pool exploration, absorbing Latin species names, asking questions and finding answers. 

In addition, there are other program objectives, and ones that are just as important as the content: to teach girls that they are smarter than they thought, that science is their friend, that their bravery is important to their communities and that a group of like-minded women can and should come up with ideas to make the world a better place.

To me, this is the most admirable element of the program. Because​ without a strong, confident voice, without the ability to speak from a solid knowledge-base, even girls who are strong on STEM miss the opportunity to make a difference.

A highlight of each semester is the public presentation and defense of the girls’ marine research projects. Past projects have resulted in discoveries contributing to important fields of research from micro-plastic pollution to hazardous algal blooms in the Gulf of Maine to invasive species and ocean acidification.  

It is amazing to see these presentations. As one of my invited guests, a university professor, said, “I normally don't see this kind of work until grad school.”

At CSG, in one challenging, uplifting, muddy, joyous semester, something will shift for the girls who participate. That shift is different for each student. I have seen girls learn​ ​​that the scientific method is a great decision-making tool, that if the data doesn't support the hypothesis it’s not failure, that talking about values or faith isn’t a win-lose conversation.​ Each girl finds her own lesson here. 

What do you think? Can you imagine a semester school like this on Cape Cod? To view award winning research papers, read more about the school, and learn about the opportunities girls pursue after graduation, visit: www.coastalstudiesforgirls.org 

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