Getting teenage girls interested in the STEM subjects -- science, technology, engineering and math -- is a major challenge. Encouraging at-risk high-school students to stick with school and graduate can be an even greater challenge.
The Women in Natural Sciences program at the Academy of Natural Sciences, which serves girls from low-income, single-parent and minority families, meets both challenges. During the past 30 years, 100 percent of the girls who have participated in the full four-year program have graduated from high school, and 96 percent of them have continued on to higher education immediately after high school.
Each summer, 25 girls about to start ninth grade participate in WINS1 -- an intensive, eight-week program.
"Each week has a theme," explains Betsy Payne, the program's manager, "like energy, food or water. We study that theme through a variety of activities." Activities include working with material in the academy's collection, conducting experiments and taking field trips. The summer ends with a trip to the Poconos.
After completing WINS1, girls are eligible to apply for WINS2, a year-round program that continues for all four years of high school. In addition to science activities, WINS2 participants get help with college planning and career advice.
"The program is designed to open [participants'] eyes about opportunities," Payne says. About 60 percent study STEM subjects in college, but "even if they don't, they realize that science is part of everyday life."
College-bound WINS alums
“We don’t say ‘if you go to college,’ we say ‘when you go to college,’” Payne says. Many WINS alumnae attend local colleges, including Drexel, Temple, Philadelphia University, the University of the Arts and Cabrini. Others attend colleges elsewhere in the state, such as Carnegie Mellon and Shippensburg. Farther away, they matriculate to the University of Rochester, American University and Salem College in North Carolina.