MURRAY, Ky. — Dr. Stephanie Hendrith of Murray State University established an after school club in fall 2018 for local fourth and fifth grade girls to introduce them to all the possibilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The club was founded and organized by Hendrith, assistant professor of early childhood and elementary education, with funding from the Ashland, Inc. Endowed Professorship grant Hendrith received from the College of Education and Human Services in 2017. The professorship is designed, in part, to enhance collaboration between the University and public schools in the region. Upon receiving the professorship, Hendrith set out to make strides in STEM education at the local level.

“Women are statistically in the majority of college graduates but men are twice as likely to enter a STEM-related field as women,” Hendrith said, citing a report published by the Girl Scouts of America. “Other research has shown that girls start to lose interest in math and science around middle school. Intervening early on and exposing girls to STEM activities at this age could possibly change that statistic.”

During weekly meetings of the STEM Club, the Murray Middle School students learn about coding, engineering, circuit building and digital media through a variety of fun and educational activities. The goal of the club is to make STEM fields not only accessible but exciting.

“I hope the girls involved with this club retain their interest in STEM as they continue their education,” Hendrith said. “Pre-tests suggest that many of them like to problem solve, tinker and learn how things work. If they maintain those interests and see how they can connect them to a career later on in life, I feel like we’ve accomplished something amazing.”

Back in March 2018, before the foundation of the club, Hendrith led a group of students from the College of Education and Human Services to Murray Middle School for the inaugural STEM Day, which allowed fourth grade students to participate in a number of technology-based activities.

The event would ultimately serve as the inspiration for STEM Club with Hendrith noting a key observation from the experience.

“I noticed that on many occasions the boys in the group seemed to take over the technology and assume the ‘leadership’ roles despite the girls being equally excited,” Hendrith recalled. “I started thinking about how I could give girls equal access to technology and expose them to different aspects of STEM, such as coding, engineering and multimedia.”

Hendrith began collaborating with staff members at Murray Middle School, including technology coordinator Whitney York and teachers Christine Hamilton and Lourdes Oster, to make STEM Day a reality. When she sent out flyers announcing the club’s creation, she expected to hear back from anywhere between 10 and 15 students. However, within two weeks, she’d received paperwork from more than 50 girls across the fourth and fifth grades.

Now, looking ahead, Hendrith hopes to continue the club for years to come with the aim of introducing young students to a whole new realm of possibilities.

“It makes me very happy to see the girls laughing, talking and having fun playing with robots, coding and creating videos,” Hendrith said. “They get to share their voices and talent with the world. Knowing that Murray State University and the College of Education and Human Services have helped me make that possible is very rewarding.”

To learn more about STEM Day or new STEM education initiatives, contact Hendrith at 270-809-6845 or shendrith@murraystate.edu.

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