Five eighth grade girls from Mt. Vernon-Enola High School recently participated in the Girls of Promise state-wide conference hosted by the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas.

Teacher Jennifer Dozler said each year the foundation selects around 150 eighth graders from around the state to attend. The students are nominated by their school’s and each one is required to turn in a teacher recommendation in addition to the essay that they have to write.

She said from Mt. Vernon-Enola there were 10 girls selected by the school and five were accepted including Kenlie Raby, MacKenzie Tucker, Vivian Sanders, Kassidy McJunkins and Julia King.

"The girls were on edge waiting to see if they made it or not, but very excited when they got their acceptance letters," Dozler said. "I was extremely proud of them because essentially it was their essays that got them into the program."

For the submitted essays, each students had to answer two questions including why they interested in participating in the Girls of Promise program and what their short-term and long-term educational goals.

"They put a lot of thought into them and some asked their English teachers to proof read them before they turned them in," Dozler said.

The five girls, along with their teacher, traveled to the 4-H Center in Ferndale and attended the two-day conference event.

"The focus is to encourage women to stay interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce," she said. "Research shows that is about the age young girls start to lose interest in these areas. The conference is full of encouragement and success stories of women in these areas."

Dozler the eighth-grade students who participate also have the opportunity to visit with the many women present that represent the wide-variety of open STEM career fields.

"I love this program because it gives the students an insight into what is possible for the in this world," she said. "Most students this science can only lead to a job as a doctor, nurse or teacher."

While Dozler said she didn’t have any current statistics, the STEM field is often dominated by males.

"This conference opens their minds to 100 more options and to see women achieving in these male dominated fields is a bonus," she said. "Many of the women on the committee [also] have great achievements themselves including the first woman general of the Arkansas National Guard."

The girls being able to meet the other women who are achieving and breaking barriers, Dozler said, is amazing and everyone in the group she brought ate that up.

"In fact, they are now interested in taking many of the computer science classes that are being offered at school where before they weren’t," she said. "Being a rural school, it is important to have these opportunities and know that they have the same options as any other student in the state and can go on to succeed anywhere in the world."

According to the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas’s website, the program has proven to encourage the young women to continue to pursue the STEM courses past eighth grade, some even choosing the career path.

"Since 1999, more than 5,000 eighth-grade girls have been introduced to women with careers in STEM fields, participated in hands-on learning activities and met other girls passionate about learning through their participation at Girls of Promise conferences," the website stated.

Eighth grade, it stated, is often the age and time frame in which girls tend to lose interest in STEM education due to internalizing negative stereotypes that tend to discourage academic achievement and unfairly criticize those who do not conform to those expectations and peer pressures.

"During high school, fewer girls than boys enroll in advanced science and math courses," the website stated. "Frequently, those who do express interest in these disciplines are discouraged by teachers, counselors, family or friends who may not view these areas as viable fields of study for girls."

Programs like the Girls of Promise and the conferences it holds, help stimulate and encourage young women to continue to explore the STEM fields.