The gender gap in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is well documented. In fact, a 2019 report by the National Center for Education Statistics investigating data from the 2015-16 school year revealed that in the STEM fields, 64% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to males, while only 36% were awarded to females. According to the report, the discrepancy—with more males receiving bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields than females—was evident across racial groups, including whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, and people of two or more races.
One woman in the Los Angeles area has taken steps to address the gap. She started DIY Girls to promote STEM education, particularly technology education, for girls in need in the Los Angeles area. Her efforts have attracted national media attention from NPR, MSNBC, Univision, Telemundo, The Huffington Post, and Scientific American, among others. Read on to learn how this organization has achieved success.
The History of DIY Girls
In 2011, Luz Rivas founded DIY Girls after graduating from Harvard University with a master’s degree in education and from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. In spite of a difficult upbringing in the San Fernando Valley area near Los Angeles, she completed her education. Her mother, who was not fluent in English, worked as a custodian until she gained better English skills. During this time, the family lived in rented rooms and converted garages. When her mother later became unemployed, Rivas worked two jobs while attending high school to save money for college.
After she discovered educational and career opportunities in STEM, Rivas decided to offer mentorship opportunities to others and to encourage them to study STEM disciplines. She is grateful for the elementary, middle, and high school teachers and programs that promoted STEM education when she was growing up, particularly in the area of computer science. As a result, she started a nonprofit organization focused on helping girls in grades 4-12 to develop technological skills. The nonprofit became DIY girls. According to statistics, more than 3,000 girls have benefitted from DIY programming to date.
DIY Girls consists of several programs targeting different age groups. For girls in grades 4 and 5, DIY Girls offers its Creative Electronics program. In this program, girls design and build projects focused on various technological and engineering disciplines. A major focus is community and team building to help girls develop a sense of belonging. In addition, Creative Electronics is offered as an after-school program.
For girls in grades 6 to 8, DIY Girls offers its Creative Coding program. The program blends computer science with the visual arts. Girls use computational thinking both online and offline to use coding to create unique artwork. Some of the key skills emphasized in Creative Coding include collaboration, creativity, and the ability to see failure as an opportunity.
DIY Girls offers girls in grades 9 to 12 the Invent Girls program, which focuses on engineering solutions for local community problems. Girls use the design thinking process to create prototypes of products that could be used to solve these problems. For example, one group of girls invented, designed, and produced a self-sanitizing insulated tent for use by people in need in the Los Angeles area.
Girls of all ages are able to participate in camps held during school breaks. The camps focus on topics such as woodworking, creative coding, and biomedical engineering. The camps are led by volunteer coaches who represent various STEM industries. Central to the camp’s mission is to close the learning gap that can occur during school breaks for students without access to other enrichment resources.
Finally, DIY Girls offers a program for alumnae called Girls Action Network and Support (GANAS). GANAS focuses on networking events, academic support, and professional support. By participating in GANAS throughout college and beyond, DIY Girls alumnae can extend their ability to succeed in STEM fields.
In addition to the programs offered in the Los Angeles area, DIY Girls offers kits for purchase for those interested in promoting STEM learning to girls in other areas. DIY Girls suggests that these materials be used in libraries, Girl Scout troops, or in after-school clubs. The kits include materials for 10 girls to make three different projects, which include a light-up circuit, an artistic robot, and an interactive friendship bracelet.
DIY Girls has collected an impressive list of sponsors. At the platinum level are companies and foundations such as Microsoft, the Eva Longoria Foundation, eBay, Verizon, Google, and GM. The gold level includes Harbor Freight Tools and Time Warner Cable. PPG Aerospace and the Los Angeles Lakers are among those at the silver level. The fact that such nationally known companies and foundations as these are supporting the mission of DIY Girls speaks to the importance of reducing the gender gap in STEM fields.