Jennifer BrooksDespite a recent increase in the number of young women with successful careers in fields based in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),  just 14 percent of engineers today are women.

Lucky for scores of Mid-South girls, one of those women is Jennifer Brooks.

Three years ago Jennifer, a product specialist with Medtronic in Memphis, led an effort to start a local robotics competition for young people using Lego Mindstorms kits. The first competition drew three teams. The winner was the only all-girl, non-school team from Girls Inc. Twenty teams competed in year two, mentored by Jennifer and other engineers. The winner was - you guessed it - a Girls Inc. team!

This year's competition will welcome 30 teams from across the Mid-South - four of them from Girls Inc.

Jennifer says her interest in math and science doesn't run in the family. But her parents supported her interest and she was exposed to activities that put her on the path to becoming an engineer. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree in engineering and a masters in biomedical engineering and has worked for six years at Medtronic.

“Coming up in engineering school, I was often the only girl in class,” Jennifer says. “I want to be able to move that needle. And Girls Inc. is doing a great job with that."

With help from volunteers like Jennifer, Girls Inc. of Memphis is working to move that needle. In addition to her time, Jennifer was recently among five Medtronic employees nationwide to receive the company’s volunteer award, which allowed her to direct a $5,000 grant to Girls Inc.

In the United States, 74% of girls express interest in STEM subjects in middle school. But by high school, only .3 percent of girls plan to major in computer science. 

For girls, a career in STEM can present them the opportunity to change the world. It is also a step in the right direction towards achieving wage equality. The wage gap for women in STEM fields is 86 cents of a man’s earnings, compared to 78 cents for all careers combined. The difference in salary can lead to women losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over their lifetime.

Right here in Memphis, Girls Inc. is working to introduce more girls to STEM through hands-on, minds-on programs and experiences that girl with robotbuild their skills and confidence in math and science. In an exciting and supportive environment, girls put those skills to the test through critical problem solving, seeing STEM play out in real life. In addition, girls have the opportunity to build relationships with trusting mentors, who act as role models and encourage them to pursue careers in fields they would have not otherwise considered. (Read more about our EUREKA! program.)

Jennifer's travel schedule means she's focused more this year on curriculum and coordinating the 40 volunteer mentors working with this year's teams. But she's served as a mentor for Girls Inc. teams in the past.

It’s fun to watch the girls progress," she said. "It’s pretty daunting when they see what they have to do and have to learn. But as mentors, we help them break what they have to do into pieces - one piece at a time. As they progress, they get more confidence in their coding. And they become more confident in their abilities."

Thank you, Jennifer, Medtronic and all the mentors who are helping Girls inc. encourage girls to be strong, smart, bold---and STEM literate!


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A group of young boys and girls gathered at a playground in Shelby Farms Park Saturday morning to spend the day riding new bikes for the first time.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Bike Recycle is a program offered in partnership with the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Oasis of Hope, Renasant Bank, YMCA of Memphis & the Mid-South and Girls Inc.

The program provides children across Shelby County with new bikes and teaches them how to ride and maintain them safely.

YMCA and Girls Inc. referred the children, looking for those without bikes or the opportunity to purchase one on their own, said Natalie Wilson, senior manager of events and programs for the conservancy.

"Here we are in a park space that sits in the middle of our city but the citizens, the kids and families, we have a responsibility of serving them too," Wilson said. "Part of what we look at is how can we transform the city through children and their families by providing education."

This year the program gave bikes and helmets to 28 5- to 12-year-olds. Before they could take anything home, each child took three bike safety courses that taught them the rules of the road, as well as maintenance tips like how to remove a chain or tire, Wilson said.

After the final safety course, the riders took off on a "graduation ride" in the park with an adult "bike buddy" before returning to the parking lot where they could pedal around a buffalo in a park ranger hat.

Bike buddy Calvin Anderson is a member of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy Board and a senior officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield. He spent the morning biking alongside the girls and boys who were applying what they learned in the workshops to the real world.

"This is an opportunity to not only put bikes in the hands of kids, but to promote and encourage physical fitness and outdoor activity," he said. "This sort of teaches the kids not only safe riding but also how to care for the bikes that they have."

Parent Anastasia Davis said the program gave her the opportunity for one-on-one time with her 6-year-old daughter Jada Alexander, who spent the morning with her mother atop a tiny purple Schwinn.

She said the courses were very helpful and educational.

"It's more than just a bike," Davis said. "It teaches them to actually be safe, how to check the bike and tires."

Blue Cross Blue Shield donated money to the program, and Oasis of Hope collected donated bikes to be fixed up and matched to the children based on their size and height, Wilson said.


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A Memphis-area bank and two local non-profits are preparing to make another investment in the education of Mid-South girls.

Applications for the Step Ahead Scholarship are being accepted now through April 15. Now in its third year, the program will once again award $100,000 in scholarships to girls and young women with plans to continue their studies beyond high school.

The scholarship is a collaborative effort of A Step Ahead Foundation and Girls Inc. of Memphis. BankTennessee manages the scholarship program, which is for young women committed to making a positive impact on the Memphis area by encouraging academic success and effective life planning.

For Terriney Gipson, a former Girls Inc. participant and a past recipient, college was not a guaranteed part of her future—but it was something she wanted.

“This program,” Terriney said, “has been a tremendous support, and because of it I am a Psychology major with a minor in Social Work at East Tennessee State University.”

Ingram Stovall said her award made her aware of the fact that she was a role model for other young women.

“That inspired me to keep going,” she said. “It lifted a weight off of my mother’s shoulders and allowed me to make it through my final year of school with no serious expenses. I’m forever grateful to A Step Ahead and I cannot wait to see the impact that they will continue to make on the lives of young women.”

The scholarship program—available to any female Shelby County resident aged 17 to 30 with plans to attend an accredited university, community college, licensed career college or technical school—has awarded $200,000 in the last two years. Out of 40 applications the first year, 14 girls received awards. In year two there were nearly 90 applicants and 21 recipients.

A Step Ahead CEO Claudia Haltom says helping girls like Terriney and Ingram set and achieve goals is what the scholarship is all about.

“Being able to attend and complete college is so important to the women in our community,” Haltom said. “We want to empower all women to achieve their hopes and dreams.”

Both Girls Inc. and A Step Ahead are focused on encouraging the educational advancement and leadership development of young women in the Memphis area, says Girls Inc. president and CEO Lisa Moore,

“This scholarship is a collaborative way we can make a positive impact on our community while advancing our respective missions,” Moore said. "Both our organizations are invested in equipping girls and women to be healthy, educated and economically self-sustaining adults."

Multiple scholarships of at least $2,000 will be awarded from a $100,000 fund. Awards will be based on strength of application and estimated financial need. Each award is a one-time, annual scholarship—but recipients are encouraged to maintain good academic status and reapply each year as needed.

Preference will be given to applicants who intend to use their education to help the community, and who express a desire to lower rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the greater Memphis area.

For more information and to download the application, click here.

Raejean Davis was excited to share her story with the 45 guests at Girls Inc.'s October dinner at Cafe Society in Midtown.

"It was an amazing feeling that I can have value," Raejean said, "and that people wanted to take their time out for me."

DSCN0245 smallThe four-course meal, hosted by Chef Cullen Kent, included produce from our very own Youth Farm. it was a yummy way to share the Girls Inc. story with new and old friends alike.

Raejean was among six Girls Inc. girl who served dinner to guest and shared personal stories about waht Girls Inc. has meant to them. They each gained behind-the-scenes knowledge of the restaurant industry, were able to network with leaders in the community and strengthened their public speaking skills. 

Diners also heard from president and CEO Lisa Moore and former Girls Inc. girl and incoming board president Adriane Williams, who shared personal stories as well as her reasons for staying involved with Girls Inc. over the years.

Many guests expressed how impressed they were with the young women and how inspired they are by what Girls Inc. of Memphis is doing in the community. Each guest left full of Chef Kent's delicious food AND full of knowledge of the many ways to support Girls Inc. through financial contributions, job placements and volunteering.

If you would like to learn about these opportunities, visit our volunteer page or click here to donate.


I’ve always been good in school and loved being involved in Girls Inc. I participated in a collaborative program with Hatiloo Theatre and it was then I found my voice. I realized what I want to do…I want to act! Since having my eyes opened through this experience, I’ve been in 3 Hatiloo productions and 5 White Station High School productions. - Kelsie

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