Del Norte High students promote STEM education among girls

Five Del Norte High students are among the teens promoting an international effort to encourage girls to pursue STEM education.

Science Accelerates Girls’ Excellence – SAGE – was founded by Minnesota high school student Emily Liu in June 2020. Alicia Ji, 17, Del Norte High Senior Alicia Ji, 17, joins the effort and now leads the non-profit organization as president.

Ji said she knew Liu — who is in college and no longer involved with SAGE — before her family moved from Minnesota to Del Sur four years ago.

“Emily came up with the idea because in her community in Minnesota, there was an underrepresentation of girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classes,” Ji said. “I realized that this was also true in my school and in my environment. There is a lack of representation of girls in STEM competitions and clubs. »

Ji said it can be isolating to be the only girl or among a handful in a class full of boys.

“Our mission is to promote girls’ STEM education, encourage their pursuit of higher achievement, and build confidence and passion,” she said.

As of June 2020, the organization has offered 72 courses taken by more than 800 students in the United States, Canada, Australia, China and New Zealand. The one-hour weekly interactive classes are offered over six weeks.

They all have a STEM focus, but vary widely in subject area. Topics covered included human anatomy, astronomy, medical imaging, logic diagrams and puzzles, computer algorithms, electricity and magnetism, nutritional science, geometry, and home experiments .

Although the free lessons via Zoom are open to everyone, they are intended for girls in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Sometimes older primary students and younger secondary students sign up for classes. So do some boys.

“We have always received positive feedback from our students and parents,” Ji said.

The next session – dubbed Mexia – opens on September 12 and ends on October 23. It will offer an introduction to calculus, an introduction to Python, atomic chemistry, forensics, precalculus, human biology and genetics. The days classes are taught vary, but they usually start at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, so those on the East Coast can attend. Most attendees will be in the United States and Canada.

Those interested can sign up at

Classes for students from countries like China and New Zealand are taught in English and start at other times due to time zone differences.

Classes are designed to be “interactive and fun,” Ji said. They are also taught by teenagers who volunteer as instructors.

Among the instructors is Del Norte High junior Daisy Zhang, 16, who recently taught a six-week food science course. He focused on chemical reactions in food preparation, such as when bread is baked. She also introduced participants to the “farm to fork” food production process.

“It wasn’t my first time teaching, because before that, I coached the Science Olympiad for middle school students (at Design 39 Campus),” Zhang said. “I really enjoy interacting with children.”

Zhang said she is considering a STEM-related career, including as an educator.

“I really enjoy teaching,” Zhang said, adding that preparing course materials is also educational.

Although she prefers teaching in person rather than virtually, Zhang said both are beneficial. Some SAGE instructors give homework, but she didn’t. She conducted live experiments that students could replicate under adult supervision. These included heating the sugar to different temperatures to see its impact on the texture.

“The first time it didn’t work because I used a sugar substitute instead of granules, so there were a few bumps in the road,” Zhang said. “But it still went rather well. My classes were less formal and in the end I edited the film “Ratatouille”.

As president of SAGE, Ji said her position required overseeing teams and expanding the program. The administrative team started with six girls but now has 20.

“The more girls we can get to support the administrative team, the easier it will be to reach more girls and expand our impact,” Ji said.

Vivian Ni, 16, a junior from Del Norte High, has been volunteering as a SAGE marketing coordinator since June.

“I discovered SAGE on Instagram,” Ni said, adding that she was drawn to her goals and purpose. She is also interested in a career in marketing or business.

Ni said she had marketing experience at other clubs and had focused on promoting SAGE on social media and YouTube by making short course videos.

“We got hundreds of views, so that definitely helps…because marketing is a big part of SAGE,” Ni said.

In addition to Ji, Zhang, and Ni, Del Norte’s other students at SAGE are second-year Sophia Tang as outreach coordinator and senior Iris Yang as instructor.

Alicia has been really great and actively trying to recruit more girls into STEM,” Zhang said. “SAGE is open to people of all ages and is truly inclusive.”

There is no charge for the classes, but parents of some participants are so pleased with the program that they have made cash donations. Ji said the money pays Zoom’s fees.

“The parents were really supportive, so they covered our expenses for the next year,” Ji said.

Zhang said she saw why SAGE is needed.

“It’s really great because it encourages girls,” she said. “When I was little I was scared and hesitant to get into STEM fields…it was weird. It’s only recently that I’ve been more interested in learning more about other SAGE fights social stigma.

Although she has a mother working as a patent engineer and a software engineer father, Zhang said she was inclined towards an artistic career when she was younger.

“I never saw myself as an engineer,” she says.

Ni said that in his AP (Advanced Placement) Physics class, the girl-to-boy ratio shifted heavily toward boys.

“In STEM after-school programs there is also a higher percentage of boys in leadership roles, so for girls there is a lack of representation,” Ni said.

“I took AP Physics because…it interested me and I wanted to challenge myself,” Ni said, adding that she has met some who believe in stereotypes that boys are smarter than girls. girls and better informed about STEM topics.

“They say boys are better at these subjects, boys are stronger and smarter,” Ni said. “I see that in the more difficult classes. … But I don’t let that mindset affect me if I care about it.

More women in STEM fields would narrow the gender gap, Ji said.

“Only 28% of the STEM workforce are women, which is a little disheartening,” she said. “So we want to have an impact on the community around the aspirations.”

Sam D. Gomez