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The Genderational Gap, Part 2 Colleges try reaching females at far earlier ages

Levelle Burr-Alexander, left, interim executive director of the Center for Pre-College Programs at NJIT, and Katia Passerini, dean of the Albert Dorman Honors College.-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

Statistically speaking, the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark is not the most female-friendly university in the state.

So Levelle Burr-Alexander — interim executive director of the Center for Pre-College Programs at NJIT — is using fields most known for their difficulty in attracting women to train and reach girls earlier.

Way earlier.

“We’ve provided STEM programming for students in the post-fourth grade through high school since 1978 by partnering with elementary, middle and high schools,” Burr-Alexander said.

Here’s the kicker: It’s working — 55 percent of the program’s 3,000 participants each year, she said, are girls.

“We have a Women in Engineering and Technology Initiatives FEMME (Female in Engineering: Methods, Motivation and Experience) program for female students focusing on early college prep,” Burr-Alexander said.

The FEMME program is a five-week intensive summer program designed to provide post-fourth-grade girls with opportunities to enhance their science, engineering, technological and mathematical academic achievement, as well as their self-esteem and confidence.

“I believe a flawed belief system about ‘who can do STEM’ and the lack of exciting learning opportunities in STEM during the elementary/middle school years builds barriers for young people,” Burr-Alexander said.

But much like the co-ed programs, FEMME participants have a thematic focus in each grade level: fourth grade, environmental; fifth, aeronautical; sixth, mechanical; seventh, chemical; and eighth, biomedical.

“And any student that participates for one year will be considered alum and given the first opportunity to continue the following year,” Burr-Alexander said.

Students not only come for multiple years and progress through the different programs, Burr-Alexander said, but they also often end up studying STEM in college, too.

Meg Fry

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