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Sustainability News

May 10, 2023

High school students interested in conservation and sustainability found professional development and learning experiences through GirlsConserve, a program focused on fostering the growth of environmentally conscious, empathetic and collaborative future leaders.

GirlsConserve was created partly in response to the lack of representation of diverse women in the science, engineering, technology and math fields. Leah Gerber, director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and Kimberly Scott, founding executive director of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and professor at the School of Social Transformation, have been working together to address this issue since 2015.

Recently, the two centers were awarded a grant from ASU’s Women in Philanthropy to develop GirlsConserve. The immersion day program was a collaborative effort between the two centers. Unlike other experiences of its kind, GirlsConserve program officials compensate participants for their time. Enrolled high school students engage with sustainability experts and graduate students through campus programs, field trips and activities.

Gerber said early accessibility to STEM careers is crucial to encouraging a more diverse workforce. “I think high school is such an important time because that’s when young adults really start thinking about their trajectories and the effect they want to have on the world,” Gerber said. “It is so important to be able to see people you can identify with succeed in these areas because it signals that this is a viable career path.”

As part of GirlsConserve, participants engage with place-based and culturally responsive activities that explore the ways in which a diverse range of identities are assets in science. Gerber said this development is beneficial to the high school students, but also the graduate students involved with the program.

“For our first field trip, our graduate student chaperones took the younger students to the Hieroglyphic Trail in the Superstition Mountains,” Gerber said. “We’re not only supporting young women before they get into college, but we’re also training younger professionals — graduate students — to communicate with these younger generations in a culturally responsive way.”

The field trip to the Superstition Mountains provided an opportunity for participants to experience nature firsthand and discuss the relationship between wildlife conservation and human wellbeing.

Topics in environmental quality, environmental justice, and the interaction between environmental health and public health were explored through on campus programs, field trips, and collaboration with peers from other AZ high schools. Students involved gained valuable professional development experience that includes working on a team, developing a project and practicing presentation skills.

Nellisabel Coira, administrative assistant for the Center Biodiversity Outcomes and project coordinator for GirlsConserve, said approximately 30 girls signed up for the 2023 spring semester session, which took place over spring break. The spring session was the culmination of the GirlsConserve pilot program, and future sessions have not yet been scheduled.

GirlsConserve has always been a group effort, and Coira said the collaborative nature of the program is one of its greatest strengths.

“It’s really rewarding to have the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes and the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology come together in this way and support young women in this way,” Coira said. “It also gives the girls an opportunity to foster mentorships with people in higher education, and I know many of the people we meet through GirlsConserve have the potential to be leaders in their fields if they want to be. The program provides a wonderful, really supportive experience.”

This program was made possible by a grant from ASU Women and Philanthropy. Continued sessions are contingent on future funding.