Jessica Bradley, 17, of Hoover, Ala., a senior at Hoover High School, empowers young women interested in science, technology, engineering and math by holding monthly meetings that bring them together to learn about STEM subjects and work on technology-related projects. As a young Latina, Jessica said people have often underestimated her abilities. Once, for example, after a marketing teacher announced that Jessica was starting her own business, a boy mumbled, “girls can’t work as hard as boys – much less a Mexican.” Luckily, Jessica, who is Colombian, had a strong role model in her mother, who had started her own business. Wanting to follow in her mom’s footsteps, Jessica decided to focus on computer science and business, where women are often underrepresented and paid lower salaries, she said.
So about two years ago, she decided to form a service organization that could give girls the skills and confidence to overcome gender barriers and succeed in STEM fields. With help from her computer science teacher, Jessica asked every elementary and middle school principal in her school district to distribute information about her initiative and invite their female students to a series of monthly workshops. For each meeting, Jessica prepares a short STEM lecture and organizes a technology-related activity, such as 3D jewelry printing, a fun binary calculator, MicroBit programming, and tearing apart an old computer. Only three girls showed up for the first meeting, but attendance has since grown to more than 30. Jessica also has organized STEM days at elementary and middle schools. “No time is more well spent than by teaching girls to be proud of themselves,” Jessica said.