In March, Candice Wilson-McCain joined the second class of YouCAN Advocates to develop an awareness campaign with parents and educators to address the gender gap in STEM education and encourage girls to develop an interest in mathematics. She sat down with 50CAN to share a look into how her work is progressing and what she’s learning in the field.

Last month, I hosted the first Girls Love Math 2 summit in Charlotte, NC. The summit was created for FLY Math Club, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2012. FLY Math Club’s mission is to create a world where every girl believes she is able and capable of achieving success in math. The organization provides a supportive and collaborative learning environment for girls in fifth through eighth grade where they can build their math confidence among their peers through out-of-school math clubs. Through experiential learning and community impact projects, we break down mental barriers to math success for young girls. Together, we believe that we can close the gender gap in STEM for both college and career.

The idea of the summit was inspired by a study run by Harvard-Cal Berkeley, where Charlotte ranked dead last in economic mobility among the fifty largest cities in the country. The opportunity gap between economically disadvantaged students and their counterparts in the city is severe. As highlighted in the report that came out of the study, two of the key determinants of the lack of economic mobility in Charlotte are college and career readiness and social capital.

FLY Math Club works to address this. By showing girls in middle school that there are women who look like them in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career fields, girls can visualize their career dreams as more attainable. Of the fastest growing careers, 75 percent of them require extensive math or science preparation (U.S. Department of Labor, 2014). While 78 percent of school-aged girls have an interest in science, technology, engineering and math careers, women only make up 25 percent of the STEM workforce, and the statistics for women of color are even lower.

Throughout this year, I have been testing various programmatic formats of FLY Math Club. In this work, countless individuals have told me that the gender gap in STEM exists because girls don’t like math, instead of noticing the lack of access to experiences that help build girls’ self-efficacy in the field. I’m excited that by showing interest in the summit, parents are willing to help ensure that their daughters have the resources necessary so that math will help them flourish, not stand in their way.

The purpose of the summit was to provide a supportive and collaborative learning environment where girls could build their math confidence and explore various career pathways from female STEM professionals working in the field. The summit kicked off with parents and students participating in an engaging, interactive icebreaker. Parents attended a session where they learned about the gender gap in STEM, why their daughter may lack confidence in math, as well as strategies to help build their skill and will in the subject.

The girls in attendance participated in a full day of workshops where they learned to use math in a real-world context, from managing their health by making smart choices with food options to making sound spending decisions using consumer math skills. A guest speaker also shared the importance of exhibiting a growth mindset when setting academic and personal goals for yourself. My training as a YouCAN Advocate with 50CAN helped bring this summit to life. I used a crowdfunding strategy to successfully meet my funding goal for the event, which covered the expenses of hosting the summit.

Given that this event was the first math summit that almost all participants had attended, we asked them to share their experience. The reflections shared confirmed my beliefs about how out-of-school time programs can impact youth academic and emotional development. 95 percent of the girls said they were interested in participating in FLY Math Club Saturday program on an ongoing basis because they met new friends, the lessons were fun and related to real life, and learning about various careers in STEM fields was interesting.

I’m committed to partnering with the community, parents and students to ensure we create a space where every girl believes that they are able and capable of achieving success in math. Together, we can help girls overcome barriers that may serve as a roadblock on their journey of academic excellence in STEM and beyond.

Candice Wilson-McCain is a member of the 2017 class of YouCAN Advocates. She is also the founder of the North Carolina nonprofit Boost Learning Solutions, Inc. The organization is dedicated to building girls’ academic confidence through FLY Math Clubs.

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