When Savan Bollu walked into her AP Physics class during her junior year, she was surprised to find that there were only five girls there…
“This was in a class of about 30 students. That surprised me. I never saw that kind of disparity in the classroom before,” said Bollu in an interview with The Beat.
Situations like these have strengthened Bollu’s commitment to doing all she can to bring more girls and women into the field of STEM.
Bollu currently serves as President of STEMgirls, a club at Milpitas High School (MHS) that is devoted to bridging the gender gap when it comes to STEM.
With about 20-30 club members, STEMgirls exposes young women to various opportunities, courses, and experiences.
“We aim to provide them with opportunities to accelerate their learning of STEM outside of conventional classrooms,” said Tvisha Nepani, who serves as Vice President of STEMgirls.
A big part of the club revolves around organizing STEMpower, an initiative that provides free STEM workshops – along with free kits – to students from 3rd to 8th grade. The workshops are open to all students, regardless of gender; so far, they’ve taught 550 students across the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD), and the program is also open to outside school districts.
The most recent STEMpower session happened over the summer at MHS, where they had 100 elementary students registered. Students learned topics like Environmental science, Medicine, Math, and Aerospace Engineering. And for the first time, STEMgirls partnered with several other clubs on campus to host the event.
“When we’re just learning STEM at school, we’re reading the textbook and there’s little exploration, invention, or use of creativity,” said Nepani. “What we do is add that creative element into what we’re teaching for this youth program – for those who need a push or creative outlet to explore further.”
The programs are popular among young students, and there’s usually a wait list for each session.
Bollu told The Beat that STEMgirls is currently working on designing a program for Randall World Languages School, a dual language immersion school that provides education in English and Spanish; most recently, Randall added the Mandarin language to its curriculum.
“We wanted to focus on another population that’s not getting as much attention and support. We’re hoping to set up a consistent after school program over the course of a few months instead of a few weeks,” said Bollu.
At this week’s MUSD Board of Education meeting, STEMgirls was recognized for their work in leading their summer program. Along with Bollu and Nepani, Lauren Lee, Ling Casenas, and Cassie Salazar also serve as officers in the club.
“I want to ensure everyone has the opportunities to explore any interest they have in the field fully outside of the classroom. It’s that idea of democratizing STEM education and making sure it’s accessible,” Nepani said.