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MakeHER Scholars Program

        Wyoming youth empowerment is an essential part of education outside of school time. A program that showcases this work is the MakeHER Scholars Program, a partnership across the state working to empower young women in STEM learning opportunities.

        According to the director of the MakeHER Scholars Program, University of Wyoming COE Makerspace Coordinator Jane Crayton, the program launched thanks to a grant funded to the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance (WYAA) from the STEMnext Foundation thanks to the Million Girls Moonshot . The Million Girls Moonshot seeks to re-imagine who can engineer, who can build, who can make. It seeks to inspire and prepare the next generation of innovators by engaging one million more girls in STEM learning opportunities through afterschool and summer programs over the next 5 years. The MakeHER Scholars take asynchronous courses and meet other scholars in the program through virtual meetups. The 2021 -2022 program will include an in-person training over the Presidents Day weekend in February. Learn more about the 2021-2022 Cohort opportunities at the WYAA MakeHER webpage. During this program, scholars learn how to deliver inclusive programs for girls in co-gender and single-gender workshops. As mentioned by a few people interviewed, oftentimes girls are not encouraged to attempt interactive activities and may even be pushed away from these attempts as boys are being taught to take the lead when it comes to utilizing tools or crafting objects. Addressing this common issue that hinders women's entry into STEM is vital to the MakeHER Scholars Program. Upon completing the Scholars Program, the newly trained scholars are eligible for a small starter grant from WYAA to start their afterschool program in their local communities across Wyoming. They are encouraged to collaborate with other makerspaces and offer the collaborating makerspace funds to support the purchase of small equipment for the space to accommodate the programs. Some examples of investments made include soldering irons, heat presses, and vinyl cutters. There is excellent news as the MakeHER Scholars Program is currently looking for their second-year cohorts who will be trained in the upcoming spring of 2022. Applications are due by November 19th, but there is still so much more to learn about the MakeHER Scholars Program from the individuals who were fortunate enough to be a part of the first-year cohort.

        The first-year cohort came together and built some fantastic programming across the state by learning from one another. This sentiment came from Emily Leinen, the graduate assistant for the UW Makerspace and developer of much of the MakeHER Scholars Program virtual courses. Emily was excited to describe the opportunities to learn how to work with young adults for those interested in working with youth empowerment. The learning comes from the interactive activities core to the Million Girls Moonshot campaign and MakeHER Scholars Program. The scholars from the first year were able to examine how they find answers and how to inspire in students a curious mind that also invites creativity and hands-on practice of these STEM concepts. One of the pieces that she learned from this first year is what it means to develop practical distance-oriented classes. Her focus in college is on distance and virtual class design, and she was able to create courses for the MakeHER Scholars Program that fit with various principles in the coursework. Yet, Emily mentioned that another benefit to being a part of this course development was seeing pitfalls and finding resolutions. This philosophy is a crucial piece mentioned in training offered to MakeHER Scholars.

        These observations were echoed by one of the scholars who came from a background outside of the STEM field. Emily Haver, a 4-H Educator through the UW Extension Unit, works in Carbon County and notes that she wants opportunities for meaningful youth involvement no matter where her students reside. In Carbon County, some students live in Rawlins, and some students live in neighboring towns that do not receive as many event opportunities geared to their youth. When she heard about this Scholars Program, she thought it would be interesting to apply. Yet, the real issue for her was the STEM focus, as this was not her main interest and sometimes felt like a buzzword in education. What she gained from the Scholars Program, though, was the realization that she could craft this STEM focus in whatever way matched the youth needs and her background passions. From this understanding, she created activities that were geared to self-sufficiency and creative thinking. This type of thinking is in alignment with makers thinking, wherein the goal is to empower others to make the objects they want or need in their everyday life through skill development and information sharing. Emily was able to utilize this mentality in the programs she created. She brought in activities from multiple resources such as COE Library Makerspace and www.teachengineering.com to develop two summer camps focused on empowering young girls to practice STEM concepts. Another scholar had a different background but was thoroughly excited to be a part of the first-year cohort.

         Another scholar named René Williams mentioned how her experience with the MakeHER Scholars Program had truly elevated the work she had been doing with other STEM-related projects. Rene founded a non-profit organization called Science Loves Art, where they build science/art kits for rural students. Her background is in art, but Rene has consistently collaborated with multiple scientists to show how scientific information could be conveyed in a wide array of artistic fashions. These science/art kits are partially funded through the EPSCOR Microbe grant at UW as well as many other organizational partners, and have enabled her the opportunity to showcase activities and assist students in their scientific learning. Part of joining this Scholars Program turned out to be for partnership collaborations and to build more understanding of Wyoming student needs.  Rene mentioned how the grant was utilized to develop future kits and expand programming available to youth by purchasing a vinyl cutter. As she mentioned throughout the interview, the reality is that art and science can support each other so much and inspire students to build a great deal of self-insight. When students combine science, such as with added LED lights and copper wires to fabric, they can drive innovation and build their passions into the projects. Both of these scholars highlighted positive experiences that allowed them to develop stronger projects to benefit the youth that they were working with in their communities.

        It is critical to hear about all the excitement that comes from the scholars, but it is also essential to recognize where the funding for the MakeHER Scholars Program is sourced. According to the Project Coordinator of the WYAA, Kate Foster, WYAA is a statewide network working to create conditions for youth to reach their full potential. They work to find opportunities for those working in youth development to ensure that Wyoming-focused projects receive the full level of support possible. With the MakeHER Scholars Program, the scholars from the first year were able to get what they needed through the courses offered and the insight each brought to the table. For some, they developed a deeper understanding of how to present STEM information to youth, and others learned what it meant to work with youth presentations for the first time. This type of collaboration was authentic and gave a space for growth which can be seen in the development of the second-year cohort design. Each youth developer selected in the program will get to work with one of the mentors from the first-year cohort to learn more about what worked for them and what they hope for in the future. As was noted by Kate, "makerspaces and these afterschool activities allow for a space where students can try and fail without the same consequences as they may have with a grade in the classroom. It allows students an opportunity for creativity, solution-mindedness, and persistence."

        The MakeHER Scholars Program is one of a number of Millions Girls Moonshot partners at UW. The Wyoming Afterschool Alliance is also partnering with the UW College of Engineering and Applied Sciences along with Trustees Education Initiative to connect youth across the state with mobile makerspaces. The mobile makerspaces will infuse design thinking concepts and social emotional learning into the curriculum along with the expected content surrounding makerspace technologies. The mobile makerspaces will connect schools, industry, and communities where physical makerspaces are otherwise not immediately accessible. Expanded learning programs and organizations around the state will also be instrumental in getting K-12 students connected to these maker opportunities. For other projects coming from the Million Girls Moonshot program in Wyoming, please also check out this website: Million Girls Moonshot Page.

        This program showcases the potential for meaningful impacts outside of classroom settings, the possibilities for Wyoming students of partnering with community and corporate organizations, and the potential for persistent and supportive team-building that are emerging from the first-year MakeHER Scholars Program cohort.

        If you are interested in applying for such an opportunity or know someone else who would benefit from being a part of this program, here is the link: Application Link. The team members are looking for individuals who are committed to changing the field of STEM in meaningful ways. If you believe you are that type of person and may not have a project in mind yet, consider applying and see how much can be developed with the help of the cohort and the MakeHER Scholars Program Team. For those who have additional questions, Jane Crayton will be leading informational sessions before the November 19th deadline so please contact her at jcrayton@uwyo.edu for updates on those dates and times.
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Phone: 307-766-3274

Email: partnership@uwyo.edu

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