When Dr. Harrington connected Upper School science teacher Mary Fran Park with a visiting Head of School from Greenwich, Connecticut last year, it was a serendipitous encounter. It was then that Ms. Park learned of the GAINS Network, founded by Ann Decker at Greenwich Academy. The Girls Advancing in STEM (GAINS) initiative supports high school girls' interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and connects them with like-minded peers and role models. "The reason I have gone back to graduate school has everything to do with this topic," says Ms. Park, who is currently midway through her doctorate in Entrepreneurial Leadership in Education with a focus on reducing the gender gap in STEM at the high school level.
Ms. Park and Upper School science teacher Emily Danitz, both passionate about science education, had different experiences growing up. Ms. Park had no female role models in science, and credits stubbornness to her success; whereas Ms. Danitz grew up with strong women mentors—her mother and sister—with careers in science. Both, however, noticed that the higher they went in education, the fewer women they encountered. This is often referred to as the "leaky pipeline," in which women become underrepresented in the STEM fields. Hoping to shift that trend for the students they teach, they proposed the idea of a KDS GAINS club to Dorothy '21 and Alix '22, two students who are also passionate about girls in STEM. Their excited response was, "let's do this!", and Kent Denver became the first high school in the western region to join the GAINS Network.
Open to all types of high schools across the country, the GAINS Network provides themed, monthly webinar curricula that high school clubs can tap into, and an annual national conference for girls to network and learn from peers and professional women. In chemistry-themed October, they featured a cosmetics chemist, Jasmine Johnson, who, when she was in college, had no mentors who even knew how she could enter that field. As a Black woman, she took on internships, networked and blazed her own trail in developing cosmetics for darker skin.
November was conference month, and seven Kent Denver students attended the medicine-themed GAINS 2020 conference virtually with Ms. Danitz. "Having the opportunity to listen to and interact with really accomplished female scientists who are leaders in their fields was incredible," says Ms. Danitz. "Our students made some important connections and were truly inspired by them. I personally connected with a Ph.D. student at Yale doing really cool research on drinking water contamination, who now plans to virtually 'visit' my chemistry classes in the spring. What a cool resource!"
The GAINS club at Kent Denver meets twice a month, and is designed to empower girls to pursue their interests, and introduce them to the many different careers available in STEM fields. There are currently about 15 girls in the club who attend regularly, and members are welcome to drop in on their topics of interest, and take it in whatever direction they wish.
Another long-term goal of the Kent Denver GAINS club is to curate an alumni mentor network of women in STEM, for girls to tap into for independent studies and their senior Career Intern Experience (CIE). For computer science-themed December, the KDS GAINS club held a virtual panel with four alumni, arranged with the help of Elyse Rudolph, Director of Alumni Programs and Special Events. "Liz Beaver '13, Kelli Frank '15, Lena Rutherford '15, Leah Hardy '94 and our very own Rollins Institute for Technology and Design resident Katherine Schneider captivated our meeting and talked all about women and computer science and tech," says Ms. Park. "We had a fantastic turnout." Next week, the GAINS Network curriculum will feature a woman computer scientist.
"The science department at Kent Denver is looking really deeply at how we can support girls to take STEM electives—especially in computer science, physics and engineering—fields with documented gender gaps, both nationally and here at Kent Denver," says Ms. Park. Under the umbrella of Kent Denver's EmpowHERment program, the vision for the Upper School GAINS club is to welcome and encourage all girls who are interested to take a deeper dive into the many rich and fulfilling careers in STEM fields, while being supported by and networking with fellow girls and women.