Student-designed digital platform aims to inspire girls to enter STEM

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What do a graduate student in computer science and an undergraduate student in economics have in common? The desire to close the gender gap in STEM.

Coming from two different fields and stages of their academic journey, Ritika Bhatia a master’s student in computer science and Abigail Meloche, a first-year economics student, have joined forces to develop PowHER STEM: a digital platform that provides information to girls aged 11 to 19. on the different careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Beyond sharing opportunities, the platform crucially connects students with role models in an effort to encourage more women to choose STEM career paths.

Ritika Bhatia, MSC

“At its core, the platform is designed to create a micro-community and to be used as an engagement tool where young women can channel their passions and be inspired,” says Bhatia.

The project was born thanks to the new Innovation Hub Changemaker Challenge. Students from all fields had the opportunity to think outside the box and use their unique set of skills to help solve a real-world challenge guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Bhatia and Meloche chose goal five: gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

Paired for their mutual interest, Bhatia focuses on coding and the technical aspects of building the platform, while Meloche takes the lead in networking, reaching out to the community and building partnerships.

“When I took my first math class in college, I was one of three girls,” says Meloche. “I noticed that there was less female representation in post-secondary than in high school and wondered if this was the case in all STEM fields.”

Abigail Meloche, B.Econ.

Using an economic lens, Meloche and Bhatia sought to uncover why women and girls are not pursuing careers in STEM fields, despite the wage premium.

What they found was an abundance of talent, limited by the overarching problem – a lack of visible representation and access to female role models at a young age.

As an international student from India, Bhatia is about to graduate and says greater representation in STEM would have been beneficial throughout her academic journey.

“I really wish I had role models when I started my studies because now as a masters student I see how many amazing women there are in STEM, but until you’re on the ground, you are not aware of it”, she explains. “I feel more confident now and I hope this project will bring more visible representation.”

“There are amazing women in STEM. We are just starting to see them,” adds Meloche. “There is a lack of confidence and certainty in these areas because of this lack of representation. If you can’t see yourself represented, it’s hard to have the confidence to make that big career decision. Having that extra support and encouragement at a young age would have been really helpful.

Bhatia and Meloche are now working on implementing their ideas. Next steps include securing resources, partners and funding, all areas where the Carleton Innovation Hub can help.

Project graph image.“We want to help students from all corners of Carleton learn about the issues, connect them with private sector partners or community organizations, and give them a set of tools they can use to transform their ideas into concrete solutions”, explains the director of the Innovation Hub. Harry Sharma. “We want to instill a culture of innovation throughout the university.”

Spread over a semester, the Changemaker Challenge is open to all Carleton University students. This experiential learning environment provides the real-life tools and skills to stand up to the job and prove the value of individual ideas.

“It was a really inspiring experience,” says Meloche. “If it hadn’t been for the Changemaker Challenge, Ritika and I probably wouldn’t have met. I learned so much from her and as a freshman this experience gave me a great sense of community.

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Friday, March 4, 2022 in Experiential Learning, Innovation Hub, International Women’s Day, Student Experience
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