Marianella '20 sharing her passion for STEM

As a member of the Girl Scout organization since her first grade and a way to meet her Girl Scout Gold Award requirement, Marianella '20 decided to partner with "Save Girls on F.Y.E.R." (Future Young Educated Role Models), a non-profit Organization located in Waterbury, CT and implement a STEM Program for girls.

At 16 years of age, Marianella '20 didn't quite know if she could make an impact on a group of girls – some her age and some older – in need of guidance and direction in different areas of life.

But it was her passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and her a summer trip to the Maranyundo School in Rwanda, that sparked an idea.

As a member of the Girl Scout organization since her first grade and a way to meet her Girl Scout Gold Award requirement, Marianella decided to partner with "Save Girls on F.Y.E.R." (Future Young Educated Role Models), anon-profit Organization located in Waterbury, CT and implement a STEM Program for girls. Marianella was also motivated by the Westover community as she learned that Westover had supported the Maranyundo School in the implementation of a Science Curriculum.

According to the website, Save Girls on F.Y.E.R.'s mission is "to enhance the lives of girls and young women who live in underserved communities by encouraging, empowering, and equipping them with the knowledge, self-confidence, and boldness that will inspire them to take control of their future & live out their greatest potential."

"It was extremely rewarding for me," Marianella said of the project. "I didn't imagine I'd be able to create such an impact on the girls, especially lifting their self-confidence and self-esteem, and how positively they should feel about themselves. Having the girls gain confidence in STEM by creating a safe space for them to learn, explore and ask a lot of questions was very important and crucial for the program."

In the fall of 2018, Marianella worked with the Westover WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) Program to host a handful of girls from Save Girls on F.Y.E.R. With the help of Assistant Head of School Ben Hildebrand, WISE Instructor Chris Childs, and Science Teachers Maggie Nunez-Fernandez, and Sarah Michaelson, girls were on campus for three, five-hour-long sessions learning and completing STEM-related activities.

"Marianella orchestrated this project from concept through to the program's completion," Ben explained. "She worked closely with faculty and administrators alike to craft the program and made adjustments after the initial session. I am so impressed with her initiative, creativity and resourcefulness in developing this unique project that successfully combined so many of her interests."

The first session was physics and engineering where Marianella and Chris worked with the girls to design and launch rockets, while the second session involved biology, where they extracted DNA from strawberries, and then examined blood, and DNA cells under the microscope.

"Marianella made it easy," Chris said. "She was on top of figuring out the lesson plan and all of the logistical pieces of the day. I was most impressed by her on the day and time we scheduled to go over how to setup and launch the water rockets. It was dumping rain outside and Marianella still wanted to do it. We were drenched to the skin, standing in puddles on the soccer field, launching water rockets into the rainy sky. We were both having a blast. That dedication and love of learning carried over to the day of the lesson with the Fyer girls."

The third session was food chemistry where "Maggie came and talked of her experience, her path to college and after college and how her culture had shaped her," Marianella explained. "We predicted and examined the effect of what changing different types of variables would have on the final cookie after we baked them."

Added Maggie: The best moment was when she told them that these past weeks of experiences, they've all been doing aspects of STEM. Their faces were a wonderful combination of shock, excitement and pride. Watching them continue discussing their thoughts and hearing them expand their possibilities for their futures was a heartwarming experience. Marianella has a desire to blaze a trail for intelligent and enthusiastic young women of color that may not be aware enough or confident that they have the potential to be a part of a career in STEM, many of which are female underrepresented careers that really need the diversity in thought, efficiency, and creativity that women bring."

While Marianella said the girls enjoyed the sessions and learning about STEM, she made sure to add a deeper level of learning by adding important topics such as diversity and career paths. She explained that she worked with Mary Taylor, director of diversity and inclusion, to discuss what would be the most effective way to address the stereotypes lots of girls think of when they think of STEM.

"Some girls didn't know what STEM was ... that was kind of heartbreaking because I've been privileged to have grown up with it," said Marianella, who is from Sandy Hook, Newtown. "Having girls 17 years old not knowing what STEM was turned to be a successful challenge for me: As the workshops were engaging and designed to learn by doing, the girls felt they were performing just like scientists because we did all of this work and research."

Beside the sessions, Marianella was able to work with Tammara Gary, assistant director of admissions, and let the girls tour Westover. Marianella will participate in the Girl Scout Gold Award Exposition and Ceremony June 2. Marianella was invited as a speaker at the graduation ceremony of Girls on F..Y.E.R. on November 21, 2018 at the Waterbury City Hall were eight girls who participated in the STEM program and graduated.

"I felt so honored to be part of their special day. This day was full of STEM memories. One of the girls described that what she looked forward the most, was coming to Westover to learn STEM; another said she loved to experiment with the cookies and another mentioned the rockets launch."

Marianella said this project is something she hopes to continue into the future under the director of the Rasin Center for Global Justice Community Service wing.