As a first-generation college student, Linda Calhoun said that as a young girl, she always wished she would have known the endless opportunities for women in STEM.
Some years later, Calhoun created a non-profit — Career Girls — to bring real women role models to the forefront with careers “across all of the major U.S. career clusters with an emphasis” in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (also known as STEM) to inspire young girls.
“I was working on an international development project in Central Asia, and it was in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and the US government had all of the contractors that we’re working on privatization projects together in a room,” Calhoun said. “There were maybe three or four women; there was no one else of color. I knew the only reason I was in that room is that they needed to know what I knew and I knew if I could be in that room, any girl could be in that room.”
In a study created by Microsoft and Shalini Kesar — an associate professor for the Department of Computer Science and Information Systems at Southern Utah University — young girls are more likely to explore STEM careers when they see successful women representation.
“Girls and young women have a hard time picturing themselves in STEM roles,” Kesar said in the study. “They need more exposure to STEM jobs, female role models, and career awareness and planning.”
Closing out National Mentoring Month last month in February at an event for Girls Inc. of Metro Atlanta, Calhoun announced the development a mobile app for Career Girls and will be working with Black Girls Code programmers to do the programming.
“The app will be a place where girls are going to be able to privately and safely, capture their career exploration and journaling activities,” Calhoun said.
Career Girls, which got its start in 1996, didn’t launch its website Careergirls.org until January 2011 and didn’t receive its 501(c)(3) status in 2012.
However, Calhoun said she believes her organization has impacted young girls and women in STEM in a tremendous way by motivating them to strive for careers in the STEM industry.
“We get submissions on our YouTube channel, Facebook, and our website, but one of the things that is most gratifying to me is when I get to see and witness girls watching our content and seeing how their demeanor changes,” Calhoun said.
On why she chose STEM to be the emphasis for Career Girls, Calhoun said that the STEM industry empowered her. She once worked as a consultant for database design, an industry she found interesting and recognized as only one of the STEM-related jobs of the future.
Calhoun said she wants a diverse group of people, especially women of color, sitting at the table designing systems and creating algorithms that will impact people’s lives.
“I want girls to know about STEM and what’s coming down the pipes in terms of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, and big data,” she said. “It will give me great comfort to know that it’s going to be girls learning about that now and in the future.”
Available in 232 countries, Career Girls offers a variety of career advice on the CareerGirls.org website, including videos from real women who work in the industry.
“I like geographic diversity, obviously ethnic, and racial diversity,” Calhoun explained.
The primary age target for Career Girls is girls from ages 10 to 13. In December 2018, Career Girls had 150,000 page views on the site, 48,000 video views during December 2018, and a total of 6 million page views since its inception.
Viewers can see close to 600 accomplished women working in careers across all of the major U.S. career clusters, sharing their experiences and insights on different professions and over 10,000 individual clips where “they can use to, support, augment, and supplement the programming that they’re already doing.”
Also, there are Empowerment Lesson videos that cover about 25 career and academic topics, there are also soft skills lessons that touch upon social and emotional learning themes including financial literacy, teamwork, and leadership.
“Two middle school curriculum experts were hired, and they came up with common core aligned classrooms, lesson plans for formal classroom instruction,” Calhoun said. “Then they came up with an independent learning guide, related to each of these topics that can be used inside and outside the classroom or for less formal group settings such as the Girl Scouts, etc.”
For those who don’t have online access, Calhoun had content from the Career Girls website on a mobile learning center available offline powered by World Possible’s RACHEL server. The non-profit also offers “Career Girls Clubs” for young girls at school.
“We’re helping to close the imagination gap for girls on what’s possible in those particular fields,” she said. Some of the takeaways for girls who visit the site include the number of years of training in each of the areas in STEM, the number of jobs that are projected, the median salary, and college advice.
“It was critical to me that we demystify what college is about and how it relates to something they might want to do,” Calhoun said. “So we list sample undergraduate courses of what you would study if you wanted to pursue a degree related to that particular career.”
On her own personal impact from starting the non-profit, Calhoun said, “I don’t want to die, but I can die very happy.”