It’s Time to Get Serious About Encouraging Women and Black Girls to Pursue STEM

It’s Time to Get Serious About Encouraging Women and Black Girls to Pursue STEM 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” 

Right now,  many young middle school Black girls are unaware of  the contributions of Black women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Lacking this knowledge and, as a result,  the role models that might inspire curiosity,  young Black girls are often not encouraged and do not pursue STEM electives in school or, subsequently,  STEM careers. 

It’s important that this changes. The U.S.’s evolving workforce needs include millions of STEM professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, African American women represented only 3 percent of the computing workforce and 1 percent of the engineering workforce.

On January 15, America celebrates the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King worked to ensure that every student would have equal access to educational opportunities. JerseySTEM honors his commitment by working to close the representation gap in STEM through after-school education programs.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we wanted to look at a few of the important  contributions Black women have made to advancements in STEM that affect how we live and work today – exceptional role models for any young woman considering where they want to go in their education and future career.

  • Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson became known to many of us with the release of the movie Hidden Figures. These women all contributed to both making space travel a reality. 
  • Bessie Blount was a physical therapist from New Jersey who invented a device that helped soldiers who had lost arms in WWII feed themselves. Further, working in hospitals led Blount to observe a relationship between physical health and handwriting. She published a paper on “medical graphology,” which jump-started handwriting analysis and forensics. (Source: “13 Black Women in STEM You Should Know!” GoldieBlox, updated February 2023)
  • Nola Hylton played an integral role in the development of MRI technology for the detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. She has been a co-leader of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Women’s Health International Group, where she identified and addressed barriers to clinical dissemination of breast MRI. (Source: “13 Black Women in STEM You Should Know!”)

How can you help JerseySTEM on its mission to bring STEM education to middle school girls in underrepresented communities in New Jersey? 

  • Become a sponsor: Make a monetary or in-kind gift in support of our programming and operations. 
  • Donate: We welcome donations of any size to help offset program costs like transportation for volunteers. 
  • If you’re a college student, become a program instructor.

Learn more at, or contact Nabil Mouline at for more information.

About JerseySTEM 

JerseySTEM is a grassroots 501(c) nonprofit organization bringing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to middle school girls in underrepresented communities in New Jersey. We develop and deliver innovative, hands-on, and online after-school projects and inquiry-based learning opportunities that develop teamwork, 21st-century problem-solving skills, and self-esteem. Learn more about our mission and goals by visiting

Female Engineers From CDM Smith and City of Newark Inspire Students at Robert Treat Academy STEMTalks

When it comes to careers, STEM fields have long been considered a boys’ club. But thanks to organizations like JerseySTEM, that’s beginning to change.

Engineers Christine Ballard and Carolyn Loudermilk from CDM Smith and Skylar Reed from the City of Newark, New Jersey, visited the Robert Treat Academy campuses in Newark April 18 and 19 and met with the middle school students who recently participated in JerseySTEM’s eight-week spring program held onsite.

CDM Smith, which is a global engineering and construction company, funded the program. Their generous $6,640 grant was generated from a T-shirt design contest they sponsored for their 2022 summer interns. The contest winner, Megha Sawhney, a civil engineering student from Purdue University, requested the proceeds from the T-shirt sales to the company employees go to JerseySTEM.

“I chose the organization,” she said, “because they recognize the gender gap in the STEM field and are making efforts to close it.”

At the STEMTalks on the Stephen N. Adubato campus and the Jackie Robinson campus on April 18 and 19 respectively, Lauriene Tschang, a corporate program partnership manager from JerseySTEM, emceed and introduced Ballard, Principal Engineer-Client Service Leader, Loudermilk, Project Engineer, and Reed, Environmental Engineer, to the students. 

All three shared their career journeys and discussed the two ongoing projects they are working on together to deliver upgraded drinking water infrastructure to the residents of Newark. They also fielded questions ranging from “What did you have to learn in school to get to where you are today?” to “What did they like best about their jobs?”. Afterwards, the engineers watched and provided useful feedback on the final projects the students recently completed. On both days, several groups showcased the apps they created in Shark Tank-like presentations. 

“The students showed us what they learned during the eight weeks of coding and answered questions the engineers asked,” said Tschang. “Overall, it was a meaningful event for everyone involved.”

“We are grateful to work with CDM Smith and JerseySTEM to advance our students’ interest and exposure to STEM-related studies,” said Marcelino Trillo, principal at the Adubato campus. “They have provided us with critical resources, including access to their exceptional engineers who have engaged our students with fun and collaborative programs.” CDM Smith was pleased to participate in the events. “Early exposure to STEM topics gives young students more career options to consider as they progress through high school and college,” said Ballard.

“JerseySTEM and their STEMTalks enlighten students on how technology contributes to a better world. I’m delighted we had this opportunity to collaborate.”

At first glance, it might seem like these women are breaking barriers by becoming engineers. But when you look closer at their careers, you’ll see that they’ve been breaking barriers for a long time—and they’re just getting started!

Donations and support from sponsors like CDM Smith help JerseySTEM transform the lives of middle school girls in underrepresented communities. We look forward to hosting more transformative programs like these in the future. Thank you for your support!

Increasing Female Representation in STEM Careers Starts with Exposure

JerseySTEM partners with schools and community organizations throughout New Jersey to create STEM-oriented opportunities for girls in underserved communities.

According to an article from, many girls aren’t taking STEM courses because they’re often not exposed to STEM in school and/or are encouraged to pursue other careers.

The article focuses on California where only 30 percent of high school students who take computer science courses are female. Yet, females make up 49 percent of the student population.

EdSource believes the California education system can close the exposure gap by doing the following:

  • Expose girls to STEM studies early in their education, no later than eighth or ninth grade
  • Invite STEM industry professionals to high school classrooms as guest speakers
  • Involve girls in cross-curricular projects that examine how the different STEM components come together
  • Administer aptitude tests to girls to show them they have the intelligence and skills to pursue STEM careers

JerseySTEM’s contribution to exposing girls to STEM education and career possibilities will continue to make a critical difference in how they view future STEM opportunities.

JerseySTEM Celebrates Pride Month

June is Pride Month, observed in the United States since 1970. At JerseySTEM, we see this as the ideal time to celebrate the historic contributions made to STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics) by people of the LGBTQ+ community.

As far back as antiquity, LGBTQ+ thinkers have been solving nature’s riddles and challenging scientific thought with mighty feats of engineering. During the Renaissance, Italy’s polymath Leonardo da Vinci, painter of The Mona Lisa, gifted humanity with scientific forethought. His artistic talents are rarely in dispute, “but he also drew sketches of helicopters and other flying machines hundreds of years before the Wright Brothers built the world’s first airplane.” And, according to the National Air and Space Museum, his sketches helped build the foundations for aviation research and realization.

Another important LGBTQ+ STEM icon was Alan Turing – a British mathematician who made major contributions to cryptanalysis, logic, and more; which fed into later developments in computer, cognitive and artificial intelligence (AI) sciences.

Other incredible contributions by members of the LGBTQ+ community have been made by:

  • Sally Ride – astronaut and the first American woman to fly in space
  • Lily and Lana Wachowski – transgender filmmakers who have created science fiction masterworks like The Matrix, Sense8 and V for Vendetta.
  • George Washington Carver – chemist and botanist who developed plants that have helped poor farmers
  • Robert D. Macpherson and Mark Goresky – mathematicians and fathers of a new theory, intersection homology
  • Sara Josephine Baker – American physician and pioneer of public health

The list goes on and on. Whether it’s chemistry, math, health, aviation or good old-fashioned imagination, members of the LGBTQ+ community have bestowed important and lasting gifts upon the world of STEM.

Please join JerseySTEM in honoring Pride Month this and every day not just June!

The Reality of STEM Contributions from Women

It’s likely impossible to overestimate women’s contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) over the years. (Indeed, contributions from women in STEM are being made as we write this article!)

Nobody knows this better than Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a virologist who won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.*

Barré-Sinoussi’s exceptional contribution to science is the 1983 co-discovery (along with Luc Montaigner) of a retrovirus in swollen lymph glands. Which would later be named Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. This historical discovery has led to life-saving treatment methods for AIDS sufferers.

“Certain people – men, of course – discouraged me, saying [science] was not a good career for women. That pushed me even more to persevere.”

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, virologist and Nobel Prize recipient**

Women are so embedded in the field of STEM that one woman – American biologist Judith Ramaley – is even credited with coining the “STEM” acronym. In 2001, the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) used the acronym SMET to refer to integrated knowledge across the sciences. The acronym was rearranged to STEM by Ramaley, and it has remained a standard ever since.***

If you Google “women in STEM,” you’ll uncover statistics, information, and advertisements about continuing education, stories of forgotten women scientists, and organizations explicitly dedicated to the empowerment of women in STEM professional fields. As a collective society, we know we have a deficit when it comes to encouraging and accepting the participation of women in this arena.

JerseySTEM was formed in 2013 for this very reason. A grassroots organization, JerseySTEM works to bridge the STEM enrichment gap with students, especially girls, at a stage when they dream about their future careers. We serve our home state of New Jersey on a school-by-school basis, offering after-school programs and mentoring middle school students. Engaging with them just as they are experiencing limitations in STEM exposure due to overcrowding, under-resourcing, and the antiquated notion that Barré-Sinoussi mentioned – that science is “not a good career for women.” Additionally, JerseySTEM is a conduit for New Jersey corporations with corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to help uplift our Jersey girls!




2022 STEM Enrichment Programs Commence

It may be cold and snowy here in New Jersey, but our 2022 JerseySTEM enrichment programs are revving up nonetheless!

In Cliffside Park, about 30 students have joined our Coding 100 classes at Cliffside Park Middle School for exposure to basic computer programming skills; and to learn what’s possible through coding. According to the district website, the school district mission is “to educate and challenge students to become skillful communicators, independent thinkers, and life-long learners.” So far, our after-school program is receiving positive feedback as it works to serve the needs of this multicultural population in line with this mission.

The students of the Cliffside Park School District are spread across several demographics with roughly 32% White, 2% Black, 4% Asian, and 61% Hispanic. The district is split about evenly between male and female students.*

No less diverse, the city of Newark is also beginning a round of our Coding 100 classes at Robert Treat Academy Charter School, Inc. with about 30 additional students. We love the school motto: “Work hard; Be the best that you can be; Be kind to one another; and most importantly, Make good choices!”

Check back often to hear more about our STEM enrichment programs in New Jersey schools in 2022. We are looking forward to expanding into other vibrant communities like Jersey City, Irvington, Branchburg and beyond. All after-school programs are provided by JerseySTEM, free of charge for participants.


JerseySTEM in 2022 – Needed More Than Ever

Perhaps JerseySTEM founder and Board member Nabil Mouline has worked to help the young women of New Jersey access STEM education because he is a father to girls who already have this exposure. Or perhaps it’s because he speaks multiple languages – having worked for more than three decades on four different continents; and he wants to help teach the whole world the “language” of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Whatever his personal reason, Nabil is completely clear about the JerseySTEM purpose: “JerseySTEM was started as a grassroots collective effort of citizens concerned about the disparity in access to STEM exposure for girls in the defining years of middle school,” he says. “That lack of exposure for girls in underserved communities leads to a lack of confidence, self esteem and interest in STEM topics.”

If you imagine the impact such a lack of confidence can have on the young women you know, you can easily understand why the volunteer team at JerseySTEM has worked to bring STEM exposure to middle school students since 2013. Now in our ninth year, we’re bouncing back after school closings and social distancing – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – have caused STEM exposure to erode even further.

A May 2021 report from Human Rights Watch posits that the pandemic’s academic disruptions have been especially taxing for children in lower-income families, where there is limited access to technology at home, or even a lack of Internet connectivity. A report from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights entitled Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students points out that, pre-pandemic, “Black and Latinx students nationwide continued to trail their white peers on the eighth grade Math assessment—by 32 points…Fourth-grade reading scores tell a similar story, with Black students lagging their white peers by 26 points (204 to 230), and Latinx students scoring lower than white students by 21 points (209 to 230).” The report goes on to expose the disproportionately dire consequences with which the pandemic has presented children of color:

  • Black children accounted for 20% of those who had lost a parent to COVID-19 through early 2021, despite making up only 14% of all children in the United States
  • Schools whose student body is mainly or exclusively students of color have been more likely to identify a major need for high-quality materials to support students’ social-emotional learning and mental health needs than predominantly white schools
  • As recently as March 2021, 58% of white students attending schools that serve fourth graders were enrolled in fulltime in-person instruction, compared to only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latinx students, and 18% of Asian students

With the education gap having been identified before the pandemic, and then exacerbated during it, experts expect disparities in academic achievement to climb in the coming years.

“Many under-resourced school districts need to focus their time covering the foundations of education (reading, writing, counting, social studies, etc.) and the welfare (nutrition, health and safety) of the students,” Nabil says. “This leaves them with little bandwidth to expand on what is not required by the NJ Department of Education.”

That’s where JerseySTEM comes in. In 2022, we are funding scholarships for college students who, in turn, volunteer as program instructors for middle school students – especially girls – in underserved communities in the state. The goal is to support both the college students in their pursuit of STEM higher education, and the elementary students who need a leg up in the sciences now more than ever.

“We are blessed to have a large number of like-minded volunteers and civically-engaged corporations interested in filling this gap,” explains Nabil.

“As JerseySTEM grows, we will be able to serve more kids in more communities and convert all that goodwill into teaching moments for those kids who need it. We are proud to be the catalysts, brokers and foot soldiers for that enterprise.”