Magazine article Information Today

A Do-It-Yourself Approach to STEM Education for Girls

Magazine article Information Today

A Do-It-Yourself Approach to STEM Education for Girls

Article excerpt

ylvia Aguiñaga never could have predicted that an NPR broadcast would change her life.

While driving home from her job as a substitute teacher one afternoon in December 2013, she turned on NPR's Latino USA program. Aguiñaga loved subbing-the kids were great, and it was a good way to make money while working on her M.L.I.S. at San Jose State University-but sometimes it was frustrating. She worked with the students only one day at a time, so there were few opportunities to make a true impact on their lives.

That day, Latino USA featured a woman named Luz Rivas, who had founded the Los Angeles-based organization DIY Girls (diygirls.org). She spoke about why there are so few Latino technologists, suggesting that a lack of access to resources leads to a lack of opportunity for getting students interested at a young age. Those students who do get to learn about technology aren't encouraged to actually create anything with it. Aguiñaga's interest was piqued, and she left thoughts of her day behind to listen to Rivas talk about her passion project, a nonprofit that provides hands-on technology programs to girls and women.

When Aguiñaga got home, she checked out DIY Girls on Facebook, excited to learn more about its initiatives. A couple of months later, Rivas posted that she was looking for a program coordinator, and Aguiñaga jumped at the chance to apply. She had always loved working with children and enjoyed tinkering with electronics. She had even taught herself how to write computer code as a hobby. From what she knew about DIY Girls, those skills would make her a perfect fit. She was the first person to interview, and she got the job in February 2014.

Flash-forward to 2016: Aguiñaga is now serving as DIY Girls' director of curriculum, a position that allows her to create all of the STEM content that is covered at DIY Girls sessions. She makes decisions based on what she thinks the girls will enjoy doing as well as what projects will teach them the tech skills that are the organization's focus. "I try things out, which is probably one of my favorite things about working with DIY Girls-being able to try out these projects myself... and observing what works and what doesn't work in the classroom. I also teach. ... I get to see how our girls interact with the projects that we do," Aguiñaga says.

This year, she will graduate with her M.L.I.S. Thanks to that Latino USA broadcast, Aguiñaga has a fulfilling career path ahead of her.

Getting Started

Rivas, DIY Girls' founder and executive director, has an electrical engineering background. "I was an engineer for a few years, and then I transitioned into STEM education. ... [AJfter working in that field for years, I wanted to start something in my own community, so I started DIY Girls at my own elementary school in Los Angeles. And I wanted it to be a program where girls could explore and be creative by using technology," she says.

With help from a friend who taught first grade at the school, Rivas met with the principal and outlined her plan for the program, which would go beyond a 1-day workshop. She believed that continuity would generate more interest from and better results for the girls, so she proposed having sessions twice a week for 10 weeks. Girls would learn how to make toys and other inventions, program video games, work with conductive paint, and create wearable electronics. The principal was supportive and offered her a space to hold the sessions.

That was back in 2012. Since then, DIY Girls has branched out to an additional seven schools; it has grown from serving about 30 girls to nearly 500. And it now caters to both elementary and middle school students. Rivas has recruited a support staff: Aguiñaga, Evelyn Gomez (director of programs), Ruby Rios (director of design), and Diana Bocanegra (program mentor).

STEM Programs for Girls and Women

DIY Girls has evolved into a multifaceted organization with a variety of events in the Los Angeles area. …

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