Nick Kay staff writer
From posting videos on YouTube, volunteering at the public library, tutoring peers and as acting co-president of the Robotics team, junior Sarah Lepkowitz dedicates her time to several different projects in order to help expose young girls to STEM.
Although The National Girls Collaborative Project(NGCP) states that women only account for “28% of the science and engineering workforce” Lepkowitz plans to follow a career in STEM and encourages other students to do the same. The National Girls Collaborative Project is a group that joins forces with various companies throughout the country to encourage young girls to pursue careers in STEM.
Lepkowitz credits her initial introduction into programming and STEM to one of her role models, Beverly alumna class of 2019 and current USC student Ariella Simoni.
“After meeting her in eight grade, she was one of my role models. Someone who, once they’ve learned something, wants to take that extra step and teach girls…specifically, how to code. I was very impressed. I always looked up to her,” Lepkowitz said.
When Lepkowitz was in eighth grade, Simoni selected her to be a part of a small group of girls she would teach code. Currently working on programming stem cell models for a lab at USC, Simoni saw an issue that needed to be addressed and created a program to do so.
“I realized that I thought there needed to be more of a push for young girls to be in STEM and specifically in programming. The best way I could do that would be to introduce it to them early on because that is how I got introduced to it,” Simoni said.
One of the biggest reasons Lepkowitz believes there is such a lack of female representation in the STEM and programming fields is the lack of exposure young kids have to the subjects.
“I don’t think many people have had enough exposure to [STEM]. Coding is an elective, no one is forcing you to take it. While STEM, thankfully, is now required in middle school because otherwise, at least in my case, I don’t think I would have chosen to take STEM. But I enjoyed it so much I also took it in seventh and eighth [grade]. It is exposure and at least making it known to students that it is available to them,” Lepkowitz said.
Over the past two decades the increase of female participation in these fields has and continues to grow. Yet, Lepkowitz sees there is still a long way to go, and has a few ideas about how to speed up the process.
“I think making Intro to Coding a mandatory class [can help]…because I know I would never sit down and just try coding for fun, it is hard to do that. But when you are forced to learn what [coding] actually is, because you might have this idea of someone sitting in a back hoodie typing away when really it is critical thinking…[you learn that] it is puzzles and problem solving. It is fun and I think people need to be exposed to it,” Lepkowitz said.
Another reason Lepkowitz thinks younger students are so reluctant to try STEM and programming later in their middle and high school careers is related to the amount of math people assume is associated with the subjects.
“I feel like some kids stray away from math as we get older so it is nice to help engage them and teach them to like these types of ideas at a young age…because I wish I had known about [STEM competitions] when I was younger,” Lepkowitz said.
STEM4all, Lepkowitz’s YouTube channel, caters to her 2,000-plus followers and offers dozens of videos ranging from explainer videos for kids participating in mathematical competitions, AP Biology review videos and home science projects, Lepowitz’s personal favorite. Her most popular video, totaling over 20,000 views, teaches kids how to create aluminum boats that float.
“All of it comes back to how YouTube is a free resource and making [videos] people can spend their time learning from is really rewarding for me. [The viewers] don’t have to buy a book or spend money on it and it is good practice for competitions…also giving the kids who are at home and want something to do science,” Lepkowitz said.
Lepkowitz has come full circle in understanding why she is so passionate about spending her time helping younger kids be exposed to the engineering, robotics and STEM fields.
“I have always been that person that my classmates call when they don’t understand a math problem and need an explanation on how to solve it,” she said. “I have always liked being able to explain something to someone else, it makes me feel very happy…It is really rewarding.”