Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG) has developed into one of the region’s largest mentorship organizations, having created more than 3,000 mentoring relationships over the last decade. SWSG Pittsburgh now serves over 730 girls annually at 40 program sites. While SWSG adapts the program based on the context of the neighborhood where each of their sites is located, the focal point of the SWSG mentoring model is consistently an experiential curriculum aligned with a recognized framework for Positive Youth Development: the 5 C’s + 1. These 6 C’s (connection, caring, contribution, character, competence, and confidence) are research-demonstrated capacities that promote positive asset building and boost protective factors, leading to more positive outcomes in young people (Smith et al., 2017).
Each lesson, led by college women mentors, teaches girls about a strong female role model who embodies one of the 6 C’s, plus skills such as bravery, perseverance, and goal-setting, with opportunities to practice and understand these skills in the context of their own lives. A combination of varying program elements (skills-building curriculum, after-school workshops, all-female community, and field trips to college campuses) cultivates and reinforces these skills. These lessons are designed to use best-practice learning techniques that are developmentally appropriate for the cognitive abilities of girls in late elementary school and to ensure they are culturally and socially relevant to the girls served.
SWSG selects role models that are diverse and unique; these mentors are supported by both program staff and professionals in the field, who serve as mentor advisers as they pursue and achieve their own personal and professional goals. This creates a cycle of service and engagement for the girls and women in their program.
One focus of their program is teaching the girls and college women about careers in STEM in unique ways. The fact that women and girls continue to be largely underrepresented in STEM fields of study/careers. This is particularly true of women and girls of color, who face systemic, social and cultural barriers that may prevent them from attaining a degree and career in a STEM field, thus excluding them from the many benefits that accompany a STEM career. This pervasive lack of diversity in the STEM professions not only systematically disadvantages women and communities of color, but it also stymies innovation in the field. One way to break down barriers to STEM engagement among these populations is through early engagement and elementary school is a critical age in which to plant seeds of interest and competency. At this age, confidence is high, and academic gender segregation has not yet fully materialized.
At SWSG, by engaging girls with STEM learning experiences and exposure to female STEM professionals, while they are still young, it is possible to foster interest and capacity that can be built upon.