Award-winning Brazilian initiative to engage girls in science

A Brazilian initiative to engage girls from low-income schools in Rio de Janeiro in science is the winner of the 2022 edition of the Inspiring Women in Science Award in the Science Outreach category. This recognition, endowed with US$50,000, is awarded by the magazine Nature in collaboration with The Estée Lauder Companies to encourage girls and young women to pursue STEM subjects, including science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine.

“There’s a Girl on the Chain” (“Theme Menina no Circuit”) was created in 2013 by physics professors from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), with the aim of making girls enjoy exact sciences and technologies.

The project involves weekly hands-on activities for 12 to 18-year-olds taught in schools, in an all-girls environment. Activities, such as workshops on electrical circuits in alternative media, combine inexpensive materials and electronic components and seek to bring out the playful and creative aspects of science.

There are also visits to universities, research centers and museums, conferences of women researchers and other activities to empower girls. Currently, 200 young people participate in the project; another 200 have already participated in previous editions.

The activities combine inexpensive materials and electronic components and aim to bring out the playful and creative aspects of science. Image credit: Courtesy of There’s a Girl on the Circuit Project.

“There’s a Girl on the Track turns ten years old next year and we’re very happy about this international recognition,” he said SciDev.Net Teresa Paiva, one of the project coordinators and professor at UFRJ.

According to her, “it is especially important for us in a time like what we are experiencing in Brazil, with budget cuts for science and for universities, and also globally, where we see an increase in negativity, to receive an award like this”. Paiva hopes that the prize will be an incentive so that all the girls who participate and who have already participated in There’s a Girl on the Chain will feel even more motivated to enjoy science.

Gabriela Galdino, who participated in the first promotion in 2014, commented before SciDev.Net who studies at the Alfredo Neves School in Nova Iguazu, where access to the university world is very limited.

“I’ve always liked the exact sciences, but physics has a bad reputation among high school students,” he said SciDev.Net. “The project made me look at physics with different eyes and also showed me that the university world is accessible,” he added. After participating in the project, Galdino studied physics and during his graduation was a monitor of the initiative. He is currently 24 years old, has a degree and teaches high school physics at three schools.

“The project made me look at physics with different eyes and also showed me that the university world is accessible.”

Gabriela Galdino, participant in the first promotion of “There is a girl on the circuit” in 2014.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Gabriela Galdino.

According to Gabriela Reznik, a gender researcher who analyzed the project in her doctoral dissertation and others with similar goals, “There’s a Girl on the Chain” has inspired many initiatives developed over the past decade with a focus on stimulating and promoting the self-esteem of young women from public schools in the field of exact sciences, predominantly black women and who live in areas of social vulnerability.

“The well-deserved international recognition shows how initiatives like this should continue to be valued, highlighting the importance of education and the dissemination of science to put equity and inclusion at the heart of their practices,” he said SciDev.Net.

Reznik stated: “In studying the experiences and perceptions of young women involved in projects aimed at gender equality in the state of Rio de Janeiro, we noticed that projects like ‘There’s a girl on the chain’ helped young women to assert their interests and skills, valuing and recognizing their skills and experience, promoting active teaching methodologies and favoring the building of a sense of belonging to the academic space’.

For Resnick, having inclusive spaces for women where they feel safe and can see themselves represented in the figure of other female researchers at different times of training is essential to building that sense of belonging to break through and transform the dominant structures of scientific knowledge production.

And he concluded: “Through a focus group with the young people involved, we saw that the project had an impact on both the young people’s school performance and family dynamics, where they said that taking part in the project seemed to be one of the factors that made them made a positive change in their experience with physics, in addition to their relatives recognizing their abilities by taking the materials developed during the project workshops into their homes”.

> link to Nature Awards for Inspiring Women in Science (in English)

> link to “Tem Menina no Circuit” (in Portuguese)

This article was produced by the Latin America and Caribbean edition SciDev.Net

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