STEMania Looks to Inspire Future Leaders

What happens when you give 300 middle school girls programming boards, robotics kits, a chemistry set and the belief that they can? It might not have been something from a sci-fi movie, but there were definitely sparks in the classrooms. The STEMania program, which teaches middle school students STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), concluded on Dec. 10, after successfully completing its pilot phase. “The STEMania program looks to inspire future generations of young women to pursue STEM disciplines,” said Huda M. Al Ghoson, executive director of Human Resources, who sponsored the program. “The program also enhances the students’ creativity, intellectual curiosity, and self-confidence while equipping them with life skills and digital literacy.” The program, which is a collaboration between Saudi Aramco and the Ministry of Education (MoE), has three tracks: Going to Mars (robotics), 8 Bit (electronics), and ScienceMania (general science). Six Schools Participate As a pilot program, the six schools in the Eastern Province that have “After School Clubs” or “Nawadi Al-Hay” open to their communities took part in the program: two in Khobar, three in Dammam, and one in Saihat. It began on Oct. 15 with a week of training 33 government school science teachers how to use the 3 kits. A week later, the classrooms were filled with 150 middle school girls from Round One, who were pre-selected by the Ministry, and ready to get hands-on with STEM for the next four weeks. Just in case learning to program Arduinos (an open source microcontroller) and building bridges out of cardboard and straws didn’t convince the students that STEM fields are within their reach, the program’s “STEM Friends” sealed the deal. The “Friends” are a group of Saudi Aramco female engineers and scientists who have graduated from university in the past few years and are familiar with the challenges of entering STEM fields. “We wanted to help students who were interested in STEM fields but had never met anybody working in them,” said Malikah F. Sharif, the program champion. “By involving Saudi Aramco female scientists and engineers, we introduced the students to potential role models.” The “STEM Friends” visited the schools to help the students with their projects, and to talk to them about their journeys. In return for the STEM Friends sharing their journeys, the students shared their dreams. “When I was a kid I always wanted to be a scientist,” said Fatimah, a student in the STEMania, “but I didn’t see any Saudi women entering science or getting jobs as scientists, so I thought it wouldn’t happen and I let go of that dream. Are there other Saudi women who are scientists?” “Yes, there are,” Halah Al-Asmari, a geophysicist at EXPEC Advanced Research Center, told her. “There are many, and I’m talking to one now.”