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A Jesuit College Preparatory Experience

New Women in STEM Club Encourages and Inspires

New on the cocurricular menu is Loyola Academy's Women in STEM Club, which has taken off since its launch this fall. Moderated by Computer Science and Math Teacher Mrs. Anita Debarlaben, the club offers opportunities for young women at Loyola to explore STEM fields and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

"Offering a Women in STEM Club fosters a community of women who support one another as we pursue those fields," says senior Courtney Carreira, who founded the club. "Hopefully, Women in STEM will enable girls to encourage one another and create a support network for women in STEM fields." An active member of the choir board, Clavius leadership board, the National Honor Society, the National Spanish Honor Society and the Scholastic Bowl Team, Carreira plans to pursue a major in physics next year.
Moderator Mrs. Debarlaben, who is a former engineer at Northrop Grumman Corporation, an American global aerospace and defense technology company, is well-suited to lead the group. She worked in the company's Digital Systems organization, where she wrote electronic countermeasures for the F15-Eagle, the U.S. Air Force's primary fighter jet aircraft and intercept platform. Her wealth of experience and knowledge are positive examples to Loyola's Women in STEM members.

"There are still challenges today for women who enter engineering and STEM careers," says Debarlaben, whose personal experience as the only African American female engineering student in her cohort at The Ohio State University challenged her to push her own limits. "Women have to overcome bias from individuals—both men and women—who believe only men can be successful in STEM careers. Girls lose their confidence to explore STEM careers because they don't feel like others take them seriously," she continues. "As the club moderator and a woman working in STEM, my focus is on building their confidence and encouraging them."

And so far, Debarlaben's focus is working. "Often times it seems like technology is a boys' club and it's hard for girls to break in," says senior Allison White. "Having a club like Women in STEM provides an entrance for girls into this world." White plays golf and soccer for Loyola and is also a Dumbach Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society and Classics Club. She participates in the Arrupe Service Program for her service learning class and volunteers at Our Place, an organization in Wilmette that supports teens and adults with developmental disabilities. She plans to study computer science in college next year.

Freshman Hermella Tewodros joined Women in STEM because she wants to become an engineer. “I think it’s important that Loyola offers this club because it can inspire young ladies that not only men can become doctors, scientists, engineers and architects,” she says. “If we can inspire people to ask questions like why does this happen? Or how does it work? Then we’ve exceeded our goal.”


The club's weekly meetings are spent exploring careers—such as those in robotics or electronics—and preparing for events. In November, the club hosted its inaugural Girl Scout STEM Workshop for elementary school students, ages six to eleven. "We decided to organize a STEM workshop for younger girls because statistics show that if you reach girls at a younger age, they are more likely to develop an interest in a STEM related field," says Debarlaben.

In December, the Women in STEM Club celebrated the national Computer Science Education Week with an activity called "Coding for Cupcakes." Open to all students, this fun event encouraged Ramblers to try coding a game using scratch—and earn a cupcake for giving it a try. According to Debarlaben, the goal of the activity was to counter the long-standing perception that coding and computer science are inherently difficult, inaccessible fields.

"It was encouraging to see how many students in the Loyola community attended," says club founder Carreira. "Students were able to try their hand at coding and explore an area of science that may have been completely new."

During this second semester, club members and Debarlaben plan to focus more on careers in STEM with continued activities—for members and non-members alike—that make the core tenets of STEM fun and accessible to all students.

The career focus will benefit students like Tewodros, who are still deciding on a career path. “I want to become an engineer, I just don’t know what type,” she says. “I just hope I can create something or do something that will make the world a little brighter.”

The club's vision aligns with a new chapter in science education at Loyola, ushered in by the launch of Loyola's STEM lab in January 2019. According to Science Department Chair Marissa Cervantes, "The new STEM lab will consist of a chemistry lab and a classroom space that will function like a think tank, with mobile hexagonal desks that can be arranged in traditional rows or small-and large-group configurations, metal grids suspended from the ceiling for makerspace utilities designed to facilitate student-led inquiry, interactive smart boards for brainstorming sessions and idea development, Apple TVs, document cameras and wireless access points."

In the next phase of the lab's development, it will be expanded into a STEAM lab, which will include a dedicated makerspace to inspire integrative learning in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. Stay tuned for more updates!

The inaugural year of Loyola's Women in STEM Club was initially launched with the following members: Courtney Carreira '19, Ardyn Chin '22, Grace Couture '20, Michaela DiVito '20, Amelia Dorgan '22, Evelyn Dziekan '20, Victoria Gapp '19, Lauren Hering '20, Hermella Tewondros '22, Nicole Vagra '20 and Allison White '19. The club meets on Tuesdays at 3:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 7:15 a.m. in room 128. For more information, contact Moderator Mrs. Anita Debarlaben at adebarlaben@loy.org.
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