Why is Mentorship Critical in STEAM Fields? Pros from Google, Intel, and NASA Weigh In

It can be daunting to imagine the future if you’re a girl pursuing a career in a field where there are few, if any, other women to look up to as role models and mentors.

As World Learning Inc. President and CEO Carol Jenkins noted in an op-ed for the Council on Foreign Relations, women are entering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the same levels as men, but there are leaks in the pipeline: women are far less likely to pursue doctoral degrees and other advanced opportunities.

But recent studies show that having female mentors — and more female peers — can turn that phenomenon around.

Creating those mentorship opportunities is one of the many goals of WiSci, the Women in Science Girls STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics) Camp. Implemented by World Learning, the camp brings together high school girls to develop their leadership potential and engage in an intensive STEAM curriculum devised and taught by professionals from WiSci partner organizations Google, Intel, and NASA. During nightly mentor hours, those professionals also advise the girls on their academic paths and careers.

At this year’s camp, hosted in Namibia, World Learning spoke with these mentors to find out why they believe mentorship helps girls stay in STEAM fields. Check out what they had to say in the following video clips and Q&As:

Jennifer Francis
Technology Development Environmental Health and Safety Engineer
Intel Corporation

How have your experiences been with the girls?
They are really cool. They give us energy when we are tired. It’s exciting to see them excited about learning. I also think it’s really exciting to see those who have that basic interest in chemistry or biology. It is that drive of being interested in science and learning and problem solving that really engages them in the other parts of STEAM. So that’s been really cool.

Why do you think that mentorship is important, especially for girls in STEAM fields?
Mentorship is really important because although you go to school, to actually go from sitting in a classroom getting that information to now meeting and talking to someone who does that as a part of their day-to-day life is really important. It factors into something I wholeheartedly believe in, a concept that I’ve been doing for many many years, called SEE: Science and Everyday Experiences.

By being a mentor, I represent SEE because this [camp] is an application of [the STEAM subjects] you may be interested in. And the girls may not get that. And even if they do get it from their teachers or from other professors, it’s always good to diversify and get that same experience and exposure from other people.

Onome Ofoman
Software Engineer

What was your experience of mentorship when you were coming up in this field?
I didn’t have too much exposure to engineering in high school. I had lots of math and science classes, but I didn’t really know what engineering was. I just knew it was a prestigious career. But I had a lot of teachers who encouraged me to apply to different competitions and would help me study after school to make sure I was prepared. That really stayed with me.

I think one of the reasons that I’ve been able to get to where I am today is because of the access and opportunity I had through those competitions, as a result of these teachers spending extra time to prepare me. I can see the direct connection between mentorship and success in my life, so I try to to give back as much as possible.

What have your impressions been of the girls so far?
They are just great. I have not taught this age group before. I usually teach either younger students, middle schoolers, or developers that are already working. So I thought they would be really rowdy. But they’ve been really, really excited to be here and excited to learn.

A lot of them are focused on what they want to study in the future, what they want to do with their life, and how they can help bring change to the world. So they’re asking really interesting questions like “How did you get to Google?” or “What should I be doing to get to a university or to figure out what I want my career to be?” or “What kind of access to scholarships are there?”

I went to the U.S. on a scholarship, so I got a lot of questions about the whole application process to schools in the U.S. A lot of the girls are very future-focused, and I’m very very happy to see that.

Do you think that there is a connection between mentoring and being able to retain women in the industry?
I definitely think there is. And one of the most important things that companies do — and those that don’t should be doing — is have resource groups. At Google, we have a women engineers group. These resource groups are very useful for helping share knowledge that people who have gone through the ranks have accumulated and can share with junior engineers.

What final advice would you give girls?
What I say all the time is just don’t limit yourself. Never think that something is out of reach. Just always try. A lot of the opportunities I’ve had is because I tried. And at first it was other people telling me to try — mentors, my parents, saying, “Apply for this,” or “Go to this competition.”

And as you try things, you see that you’re good at some things [and] maybe not so good at other things. All that information is useful. It’s useful to know what you’re good at. It’s also useful to know what you’re not good. But also just trying things [is useful]. It’s a muscle so the more you do it the easier it is. So just always try, never limit yourself.

Emily Adams
Regional Science Coordination Lead for the Eastern Southern Africa Hub
NASA SERVIR Science Coordination Office

NASA’s Emily Adams joins mentor night at WiSci Namibia.

What interested you in coming to the camp?
It’s become even more obvious over the past couple of years, even six or eight months really, how women have been discriminated against in STEM fields. I mean, it’s obvious that it’s a male-dominated field, but the discrimination is a much bigger problem than I think anybody had really realized.

I didn’t necessarily face a lot of the same problems that some other women have faced, but I did have a little bit of discrimination through my master’s degree and it really empowered me to want to make the science fields better for the next generation of young women. I had so many opportunities thanks to my parents and things like that, and I think this camp is a great opportunity to expose young women to new science opportunities and empower them to pursue STEM careers if that’s what they choose to do.

What was the discrimination you faced?
It was not anything aggressive by any means. I give the benefit of the doubt that it was unconscious, but in a lot of cases I was the only woman in my lab and it was my job to clean, always. So there’s just small things like that where I was being pushed toward fulfilling a stereotype rather than being treated as an equal. It’s not necessarily a huge thing, but even something like that can be really detrimental to a woman’s career. Cleaning takes away from my studies, takes away from my research, etcetera. It can build up.

What was important to you to impart to the girls at mentor hours?
I think what’s amazing right now is we’re so connected. The world is so connected and there are so many resources available to young women online and through different projects like this. I really encourage them to seek out these opportunities and build their repertoire of experiences.

One of the big reasons why I am here today is because I took a lot of chances on experiences that maybe were a little bit outside of my comfort zone — sometimes a lot of outside of my comfort zone — but they exposed me to new skills and new things that I was so excited to keep exploring. It’s a huge deal for a lot of these girls to come all the way to Namibia to learn about STEM. It’s an experience like nothing else. And so I really encourage them to use their online platforms and communities to continue learning.

Why are mentorship opportunities important in your field?
Obviously there are very few women in STEM fields, which means we have very few people to look up to and that we could easily learn from. There are a lot of male allies that have been in my life as well, but sometimes you feel most comfortable looking up to somebody like you. I would like to continue to pass that relationship down to the next generation and encourage women to continue to pursue STEM and at least give them a positive role model to look up to throughout their career.


Robert O’Connor
IT Factory Automation Engineer
Intel Corporation

You’ve been participating in mentor nights. What kind of questions are you getting?
Before this week, we did mentoring with the counselors rather than the girls. We had them in for two sessions, we went through our projects with them in the first session and then they asked us if we could have a second one where we talk about our careers, how we started — I was a swimming teacher and a lifeguard — and how we progressed in each step along the way to where we are now and where we want to go in the future and the roadblocks [we faced]. And [they also asked for] recommendations for how they could potentially get jobs both in their own countries and abroad. So that was very interesting.

Now in week two, the girls are all very focused on their final week project. They want to win. So they’re all coming up to us and are like, “Here’s my idea,” and they’re really pushing it and want all the tweaks they can get. And then they’re like, “Now how can we present this so it comes across well to the judges?” So essentially our mentor hours for this week are focused around their camp projects and how they’re merging our work, Google’s, and NASA’s together for the final project.

What has been your overall experience at WiSci?
I just think it’s been brilliant. A lot of people in Ireland that I spoke to when I told them I was going on it said, “Oh, I never applied for it because I didn’t think I’d get it.” I’m male, so I saw this as women in science and I knew straight away that it would have to have a heavy female-weighted team just so the girls could see themselves in it.

But that didn’t turn me off it because I thought you also have to have men there so that it’s not it’s not a divide. Theresa (another Intel mentor) has years of experience, she’s a brilliant manager, so now she’s leading a team of both men and women, and I just think that comes across a bit better than a woman leading a female team. It shows that are all working together. It’s not men holding women back — maybe one day it was — but we’re all trying to drive together into the future. [These girls] can have support no matter where they are and no matter what jobs they go into.

Jackie Rajuai
Geoprogram Manager

Google’s Jackie Rajuai at NUST’s Windhoek campus.

Why is it important to teach STEAM skills to girls?
I grew up in Kenya, and no one ever came to speak to me about what kind of options there are in life career-wise. My parents always said you can do anything you want to do as long as it’s engineering or science, but I didn’t have a grasp of what those things were. So when I was selecting what I was going to do in university, it was just based on what my parents said.

At that age, given how impressionable you are, sometimes you select things based on what your friends say, but if I had the opportunity to talk to people who actually work in the industry, that could have changed a whole lot of things. Luckily I ended up somewhere I really love, but it’s important to me that these girls meet people who actually work in these industries and get a sense of what opportunities are available to them in life.

Did you participate in mentor hours?
I did. That’s been interesting as well. One girl said she always had a passion for structural engineering and construction, but now that she’s met us she’s like, “Okay, I never thought this would be considered engineering as well” — because it’s not things you physically see. So it was interesting to see how options have opened up [for her]. She has a few years to think about it. And the benefit is that in the first two or three years of engineering, the basics are the same. It’s very math-heavy. So I asked her to focus on building the foundation, be comfortable with math and things around that, that’s going to help build you up in the future.

[I also spoke] to girls who really enjoyed the camp and want to be able to do this in the future but they don’t have the monetary ability. So I was talking to them about scholarships. Some girls didn’t know those things would be available to them. That’s been really cool.

What are your thoughts on how to break down the barriers for women entering STEAM fields and where this camp fits in with that?
I think a big chunk of it is funneling as many people as you possibly can into those fields. Because being one of the few women in the industry is difficult, but you find solace in groups, right? Even if you’re like five [women], you know you’re not in this by yourself. So having more women come into the field is going to change the work environment.

We know from the top to the bottom there’s lots of males in leadership, so even how these companies are run or basic things like benefits or even the terms we use are all very male-oriented. So if there’s more females in the company, people are like, “Oh, that’s something we never thought about.” But then still sometimes companies struggle because it’s like, “Even if we change all this, we still have very few women, so why are we changing this existing structure that’s been working for just 1 percent?”

Right? So the more we funnel people into the industry, the more it’s also going to change the work environment.

With initiatives like this one, do you see a difference in how they funnel people into the industry?
Definitely. At the end of the day yesterday, I was talking to some of my colleagues who happen to be from Kenya as well. We were saying it would be really good to keep tabs on these girls because it would be nice to ensure that bond carries on. We don’t want to have passed on all this knowledge and opened up their eyes and then just drop it. So just keep tabs on them if they get into a university. For example, in Google we have a university outreach team. If some of these students end up in a STEAM field, how do we get them to be interns in the company and maintain that relationship?

[We want to] just keep holding their hands because it’s tough. As I mentioned, I went to school in Kenya. In my engineering class, we were four girls out of like 35 guys. So before they even get into the field, [when they’re] studying it in school, we just have to try and keep holding their hand and telling them it’s fine, it keeps getting better. We’d like to keep that pipeline going.

Any final advice?
I think just go for your dreams, right? At the end of the day, I understand we have lots of barriers, whether it could be economic barriers or access to opportunities or things like that. I never thought going to school in Kenya that I would get hired by Google and be on the same team as people who went to Stanford and different places, but you’re on the same team and you’re working on the same product for users for the same goal. Sometimes we are our own challenge. You say like, ‘yeah, but I don’t have this, but I don’t have this.’ But just go for what you want in life. Anytime an opportunity comes up, take it because you never know. You never know where it’s going to lead, you never know who you’ll meet, so just follow your dreams. It can be hard sometimes, but at least you know at the end of life, I gave it my best. I tried.

Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics) Camp is a private public partnership (PPP) between the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, UN Foundation’s Girl Up Initiative, Intel Corporation, and Google. In 2018, the camp brought approximately 100 high school girls from the African continent and the U.S. together for 13 days in Namibia to explore the STEAM fields and access mentorship opportunities and leadership training.

WiSci Campers Look to the Future

Over the last two weeks, the 2018 WiSci STEAM Camp brought together nearly 100 high school girls from five countries to learn about coding, robotics, leadership and more. They had some incredible experiences discovering new fields and innovative technologies with the help of trainers and mentors from Intel, Google, NASA, and more.

Now that the girls have returned home — including the U.S., Kenya, eSwatini, Ethiopia, and all over Namibia — we asked a few of them to share with us their hopes and visions for the future:

15 years old

Natalie has attended school in three countries due to her mother’s job with the UN Development Programme. Though some in her community believe girls should stay at home, Natalie’s mother was a role model for pursuing a career.

“My dream would be to graduate from Harvard Law School and then work in the U.S. as a forensic detective because my favorite show growing up was NCIS.”

17 years old

Iyambo has loved science since primary school. She has always been a curious person and relishes discovering everything from how the human body is composed of cells to building apps that are accessible to people in all communities. She says that the Google classes at WiSci confirmed her love for her chosen STEAM field:

“They taught us many things, how to develop apps and how you can use them to help people in our communities. It actually made me love computer science much more, which is why I’d like to pursue it as a future career.

I would like to complete my high school and go to university at least. If I can get a scholarship then I’ll go abroad. If not, I’ll come to this university, the Namibia University of Science and Technology, and do computer science. That’s what has been interesting to me so far and I think it’s the best career I can ever opt for.”

17 years old

Beza’s love for challenge is what got her interested in pursuing STEAM: “In the 9th grade, I was listening to BBC News and they were saying how there’s really less involvement in girls in the STEAM fields,” she says. “I thought, ‘That’s not true. I love physics and math.’ I tried to push myself more into those fields. And then I fell so in love with them.”

In fact, Beza loves physics and math — plus her technical drawing classes back in Ethiopia — so much that she’s still debating her future career options. “I haven’t decided yet but I’m thinking about studying computer science and architecture, and software engineering,” she says.

16 years old

Samkay loves writing poetry — a skill she demonstrated during the WiSci Talent Show — but she wants to pursue a career as a scientist and medical doctor. “My mom is a nurse and growing up alongside her just made me want to help people the way she does.”

Through WiSci’s NASA classes, Samkay has become more interested in the geospatial mapping tools that allow you to track changes in the environment. She also made other great discoveries: “When this opportunity came, it just landed on my lap and I had to take it because I saw it as an opportunity for a young woman like me to prove myself, for me to see my options and try my best to achieve the best for myself. So WiSci is like the greatest thing that has ever happened to me because I got to learn a lot of things, and I believe I’m still going to learn a lot of things.”

16 years old
United States

Renata has had a passion for STEAM for years, especially mathematics. Though she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do for a career, spending time at WiSci has given Renata a chance to explore new fields and possibilities:

“I really want to advocate for something and do something on behalf of others when I’m working. So I could try to do something for accessibility like the people at Google or I could work for a nonprofit like my mom. I don’t know. I’m just so excited to get out there. One of our Google teachers, she worked for like five different industries. So I’m thinking why not just do that and try out every bit of your dreams?”

Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics) Camp is a private public partnership (PPP) between the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, UN Foundation’s Girl Up Initiative, Intel Corporation, and Google. In 2018, the camp will bring approximately 100 high school girls from the African continent and the U.S. together for 13 days in Namibia to explore the STEAM fields and access mentorship opportunities and leadership training.

5 Amazing Innovations From the WiSci STEAM Camp

After two weeks of learning how to code, build autonomous robot cars, create accessible apps, and live together with girls from five different countries, the 2018 Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM Camp drew to an innovative end yesterday.

Teams of WiSci campers have spent the past week designing creative solutions to problems in their communities, ranging from waste and environmental degradation to everyday problems in girls’ lives. Their ideas were astounding. They’ve come up with ways to make cars cleaner and keep girls safer.

At the closing ceremony, esteemed judges from the U.S. Department of State, Intel, Girl Up, and the Namibia University of Science and Technology presented four WiSci teams with awards, which were also made possible with the support of Cheryl Lewy, vice chair of World Learning’s Board of Trustees, and her husband Glen. These were given out in the categories of most innovative, best presentation/pitch, most technical rigor, and best all-around projects.

Want to learn more about how these campers are going to change the world? Here’s a look at five amazing projects that reveal the diverse possibilities of STEAM:

The Jeng Jacket Project
Elisa, Noelia, Grace, Johanna

What if your jacket could keep you warm and safe? That’s what these four girls from the U.S. and Namibia asked themselves when they started to work on their final WiSci projects. While brainstorming ideas, they discovered they all had a common problem: whether they were staying late for clubs or walking long ways to school in early hours, they all had to walk alone in the dark sometimes. So they designed the Jeng Jacket.

This jacket comes outfitted with heating pads that activate as you move to keep you warm, reflective velcro (which can be removed for washing), and an alarm that sounds when you pull a string. In their presentation, the girls explained that the alarm — which sounds like a siren — is designed to scare off anyone who might try to attack a girl. They had a lot of fun building it together and plan to keep working on it even after WiSci. “We really hope we can make this into a reality,” Grace said.

lJ!6 (“Girl” Upside-Down)
Jo-Ann, Leslie M., Leslie D., Hendrina
(Winners of “Best All-Around” project)

Team IJ!6 set out to solve a problem that was very close to their hearts: they wanted to provide service dogs to people who can’t see — and do so at a low cost. As Leslie M. explained during her presentation, years ago she and her brother were in a car accident that left him blind. Her mother wasn’t able to afford a service dog, as they can cost more than $15,000.

So IJ!6 created a robotic service dog made of cheap materials such as plywood and silicone as their WiSci project. “We invented what I personally wish had been invented,” Leslie M. said. They named the robot IJ!6 — the word “girl” written upside-down — to challenge the idea that only men can become engineers. And, to this team, there was no question as to their motivation. “The reason why this is important is because we care,” Jo-Ann said.

Flat Heels
Emily, Bezawit, Marye, Tatiana
(Winners of “Most Innovative” project)

“Do you wear heels?” Emily asked the judges and other onlookers during her presentation. “Do you feel uncomfortable wearing them the whole day? Do you wish there was an easier way to change from flats to heels?” Team Flat Heels had a solution to this problem that most women will find familiar. Their project was a high heel that can convert into flats at the touch of a button.

Bezawit and Marye said the inspiration for the Flat Heel came from their performance in Ethiopia’s culture night at WiSci. They were both pulling double-duty as presenters and dancers and needed to quickly change out of their heels.

In their pretotype design for Flat Heels, the team envisions the shoes will come outfitted with a gas spring in the heel that can rise into a high heel or compress into a flat. The mechanism would be operated by a tiny arduino computer that a user could activate from a cell phone app. They’re hoping to turn this design into a reality when they get home — and judging from the responses from their fellow WiSci participants, there’s certainly a market for it. “Everyone said they would buy it,” Marye said.

Future Pack
Daniella, Rakkel, Marina, Faith

Backpacks can be hard on your back — as the girls from this WiSci project team know well from years of commuting to their schools in eSwatini, Kenya, and Namibia. They wanted to build a better, more lightweight, backpack that will not only make for easy wearing but also prevent back pain for years to come.

They designed the Future Pack, a backpack outfitted with a system that distributes helium evenly throughout to reduce the bag’s weight by up to 25 percent. As with all the projects, the team faced significant challenges: “We were aiming to reduce the weight of the bag, but had to use a heavy helium canister,” Faith explains. But the team worked to find a way to compensate for that weight and are proud of their end result. “I feel like a scientist,” Faith said.

Just Expressing Artistic Motives (J.E.A.M.)
Joysy, Evandra, Angela, Miracle

Miracle was disappointed when the funding for her school’s art program was cut. She and her fellow art students had started working on a mural but ran out of paint and couldn’t afford more to finish it. But it turned out they weren’t done with art: instead, her teacher came in with magazines and other recyclable materials to transform into bowls and other forms of art..

Team J.E.A.M. — which also represents the girls’ initials — love both art and the environment and were excited to combine their passions into this upcycling project that transforms recyclable materials into art. When they return to their homes in the U.S. and Namibia, they’re planning to create dropboxes in their communities where they can leave recyclable materials for others to use. They’re also creating a Facebook page offering tutorials on how to turn cardboard, water bottles, and spoons into dollhouses, toy monsters, and windchimes.

The girls said they were inspired by their time at WiSci: “We’re here to express ourselves as well as learn, so we used our technology to allow people to express their artistic forms and share it with other people,” Miracle said.

Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics) Camp is a private public partnership (PPP) between the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, UN Foundation’s Girl Up Initiative, Intel Corporation, and Google. In 2018, the camp will bring approximately 100 high school girls from the African continent and the U.S. together for 13 days in Namibia to explore the STEAM fields and access mentorship opportunities and leadership training.

A Day in the Life of a WiSci Camper

Every day is a busy — and fun — one for the campers at the 2018 Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM Camp. Beyond learning how to code, build apps, and design tools to help solve problems in their communities, this group of girls are learning about leadership, women’s empowerment, and each other.

Take a peek into the daily life of our campers through the eyes of Cori, a 16-year-old from Atlanta who came to WiSci because she’s interested in studying chemistry and eventuallypursuing a career as a forensic scientist.

6:35 a.m.: Wake up!

For Cori, being at WiSci — where she’s surrounded by dozens of girls from the U.S., Namibia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and eSwatini (the former Swaziland) — has not only taught her how to wait her turn for the shower. She’s also learned a lot about herself:

“I know I’m African American, but I never realized my roots. This might not be the part of Africa I’m from and I might not have met anyone from the part of Africa that I’m really from, but I never learned about Africa in history classes. For some reason they skip over that. I feel closer to myself now.”

8:00 a.m.: Breakfast

On the menu today: Weet-Bix, ham, cheese, and bread.

9:00 a.m.: Class with Girl Up 

As a WiSci partner, the United Nation Foundation’s Girl Up has been leading leadership and empowerment classes each morning. Today, Cori and her classmates learned about public speaking and practiced interviews and elevator pitches.

Cori plans to start a Girl Up club when she gets back to her high school, where she says there aren’t many outlets for girls. “I learned that there’s more than one way to be a leader, that anyone can be a leader,” she says.

10:30 a.m.: Final project planning

For this last week of WiSci, the campers will be working on projects using their STEAM skills to find innovative solutions to problems in their communities. Cori and her classmates Elena, Ntsikelelo, and Shakyra are devising a way to use the kinetic energy that girls in rural areas create while biking to school — sometimes several hours each way — to charge their cell phones, which can be a lifeline in their daily lives.

12 p.m.: Lunchtime

1:00 p.m.: Intel classes begin

Today, a team of trainers from Intel — a WiSci partner — kicked off their week of classes. Cori and the other campers learned coding for artificial intelligence, built CurieBots, and designed prototypes of tools that can assist in disaster scenarios from alien invasions to sharknados.

WiSci partners have been leading classes since the camp began. Last week, trainers from Google and NASA taught the girls how to build apps and use geospatial mapping tools. Even though Cori is primarily interested in chemistry, she realized that she enjoys making apps and hopes to continue trying to do so when she gets home.

3:30 p.m.: Snack break 

Snack choices today: apples, bananas, or cheddar popcorn.

4 p.m. Back to class 

Having learned the basics of the Python programming language, Cori and her classmates began testing the Smart Animal Surveillance System — also called SASSY — that can recognize pictures of animals held in front of a webcam. Cori says she enjoyed learning from the Intel trainers:

“They’re really fun. You could tell that they’re really invested and they really enjoy this experience. It feels like they’re in it with us. It’s not just classes. They bond with us.”

6:30 p.m. Dinner

7:30 p.m. Talent show

Though there was lots of amazing dancing and singing on display, Cori’s favorite performance of the night was a public speaking demonstration from Iyambo, one of the girls from Namibia. Iyambo spoke passionately about how her fellow WiSci campers should not be afraid to pursue careers in science as they are all strong and intelligent women.

“It was really empowering,” Cori says. “You could tell she meant what she said. It spoke to me.”

10:00 p.m. Lights out!

Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, and Mathematics) Camp is a private public partnership (PPP) between the U.S. Department of State’s Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships, UN Foundation’s Girl Up Initiative, Intel Corporation, and Google. In 2018, the camp will bring approximately 100 high school girls from the African continent and the U.S. together for 13 days in Namibia to explore the STEAM fields and access mentorship opportunities and leadership training.

The 2018 WiSci STEAM Camp Kicks Off with NASA, Google, and Teen Girls From Five Countries

This week, nearly 100 high school girls from across the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa have arrived in Windhoek, Namibia, where they’re learning how to say hello to Harry Potter through code, design apps for painting pictures on their tablets, build lights out of tiny computers — and so much more.

These teenagers are taking part in the 2018 Women in Science (WiSci) Girls STEAM Camp, which has brought together girls from the United States, Namibia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and eSwatini (the former Swaziland) for two weeks to learn about one another’s cultures and develop their skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and design, and mathematics (STEAM).

U.S. Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson with WiSci 2018 participants.
U.S. Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson with WiSci 2018 participants.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the girls in terms of broadening their world and making them stronger and realizing what opportunities and potential is out there, particularly in the STEAM fields,” said U.S. Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson, who has attended a number of WiSci sessions this week.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and run by World Learning, WiSci operates through a public-private partnership with Google, NASA, Intel, and the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up. Representatives from these partner organizations are leading classes introducing teens to the STEAM fields and mentoring the girls on their potential academic and career paths.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State and run by World Learning, WiSci operates through a public-private partnership with Google, NASA, Intel, and the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up. Representatives from these partner organizations are leading classes introducing teens to the STEAM fields and mentoring the girls on their potential academic and career paths.

NASA and Google kicked off the academic components of WiSci this week, offering hands-on classes and activities.

With the help of NASA instructors, the girls tried their hands at Javascript programming using satellite data visualization tools like the Google Earth Engine. “It was fun to see the girls start putting things into the computer and then get that a-ha moment when they pressed the ‘run’ button and it did what they had instructed it to do,” Ambassador Johnson said. “You see it light up in their eyes. It was definitely having an impact.”

WiSci 2018 participants in their Google classroom.
WiSci 2018 participants in their Google classroom.

Google employees also highlighted how they use technology to make a difference in people’s lives. They demonstrated some of that technology — including theTalkBack app for vision-impaired Android users and a smart spoon designed for people with hand tremors — and helped girls build their own apps that take accessibility into account.

“I challenge you to go out into your classrooms today and build something great,” said Eve Andersson, director of accessibility engineering at Google.

WiSci also focuses on leadership development and cultural exchange. Camp counselors are hosting daily leadership development and empowerment workshops with the campers with the support of Girl Up and, in the evenings, the campers are putting on performances exploring the music, dance, customs, and more from their home countries.

“You can see how excited they are to be here,” Ambassador Johnson said. “They’re not hesitant at all to ask questions, they want to learn, they’re super engaged. That’s really awesome to see.”

Next week, the girls of WiSci will turn their focus to robotics and AI as Intel takes over classroom duty, and they’ll also begin to develop their own projects to explore firsthand how STEAM education can make a difference in the world.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars

Participant Profile

Participants are alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and vary in age and level of expertise, but all will be engaged in the seminar topic and highly motivated to create change in their communities.

Please consult the list of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs below.

Participant Selection

Alumni TIES participants who are not U.S. citizens are nominated by the U.S. Embassies or Consulates in their countries. Please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country to learn how you can participate in Alumni TIES. Potential Alumni TIES participants who are living in the United States can apply for specific seminars managed by World Learning. The web link to the online application will be distributed widely by the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

All participants for Alumni TIES seminars are selected by the U.S. Department of State.

Program Design

Alumni TIES seminars take place in six world regions and the U.S.; each seminar is three to four days for small groups of alumni. The seminars include speakers, capacity development trainings, and alumni networking activities. Through the small grants initiative, alumni have the opportunity to take action and make a positive difference in their communities.

Learn More

Watch more videos about the Alumni TIES program.

Read stories from past participants about their experiences at the seminars or with their small grant projects on the Alumni TIES blog.

For information on programs for U.S. government-sponsored exchange program alumni visit the International Exchange Alumni website.

Alumni TIES is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and supported in its implementation by World Learning, in partnership with the Office of Alumni Affairs of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).  

International Visitor Leadership Program

End of Year Report

Chosen by U.S. embassies worldwide to participate, distinguished professionals include:

  • parliamentarians
  • government officials
  • entrepreneurs
  • NGO leaders
  • journalists
  • academics
  • arts administrators
  • mid-career professionals

Programs focus on policy issues in areas such as:

  • government
  • international security
  • foreign policy
  • entrepreneurship
  • economics and trade
  • media
  • women’s leadership
  • education
  • public health
  • arts
  • agriculture
  • disability rights and inclusion

World Learning staff members design national itineraries, arrange logistics, set up meetings in Washington, DC, and coordinate the collaboration of U.S. Department of State program officers, interpreters and International Visitor Liaisons, and more than 85 community-based member organizations from the Global Ties U.S. Network who arrange local programs nationwide.


Most participants are mid-career professionals and emerging leaders, and for many, this is their first visit to the U.S. Groups are of varying sizes, from single visitors to groups of 25 or more. World Learning program staff work closely with their State Department counterparts to design a program customized to the project objectives and the visitors’ interests.


Participant Selection

IVLP candidates are selected solely by U.S. embassy personnel in each country. There is no application form. World Learning is a private sector partner of the U.S. Department of State; our role is limited to designing programs for participants once they arrive in the U.S. For further information regarding the program, please consult the U.S. Department of State’s website.

Program Design

A typical project includes up to a week of meetings in Washington, DC, to provide an orientation and overview of the theme and to introduce visitors to federal officials and agencies, national organizations, academics and think tanks, nonprofits and NGOs, and professionals in their specific field of interest. All projects include a briefing on the US federal system of government. Meetings may include panel discussions, site visits, workshops, individual interlocutors, job shadowing, or service opportunities. Visitors typically travel to an additional three or four cities in geographically diverse regions of the country; the itinerary may include a state capital and a small town to provide first-hand exposure to the great diversity that exists in the U.S. Also included in the program design are hospitality dinners, school visits, community service activities, and cultural events such as rodeos, state fairs, festivals, visits to national parks, or events that highlight some unique aspect of the region visited.

Participant Experience

“My recent experience in the IVLP program is so far the deepest ever for me to see and understand the full picture of what America as a country is like. I strongly believe this program will have a very long-term impact on my views about America and the world and to some extent it has already helped me to understand many long-time questions.” – Journalist from China

The International Visitor Leadership Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.

Leaders Lead On-Demand Program

Examples of past leaders Lead On-Demand Projects:

  • Vietnam Legal Aid
  • Refugee Integration and Resettlement in Central and Eastern Europe
  • Sports Leadership Program for Colombia
  • Mongolia Disability Rights Legislation and Implementation
  • Promoting Open Educational Resources: Middle East and North Africa
  • Tourism and Development in Serbia and Kosovo
  • Religious Freedom and Interfaith Dialogue for Myanmar, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand
  • Emerging Leaders Exchange for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  • Environmental Advocacy for Mongolia
  • Getting Connected Program for the South Pacific
  • Civic Engagement Program for Moldova
  • Disinformation and Fact Checking in Kenya

The Leaders Lead On-Demand is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government and administered by World Learning.