By Robin Hindery Enan of Menlo Park, a member of the 2015-2016 Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula Project Development Committee.
With more than 50 years of community activism under its belt, including nearly 100 community projects, the Junior League of Palo Alto-Mid Peninsula has hit on a new strategy to fulfill its mission to "promote voluntarism, develop the potential of women, and improve communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers."
This is the San Francisco Bay Area, after all, and we've decided to take a page from the startup playbook and "disrupt" our traditional approach to community service.
Last year, our members voted overwhelmingly in favor of adopting a new, targeted focus: empowering girls to be leaders in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (known as STEM).
Over the course of the 2015-2016 League year, we'll launch two new community projects in keeping with this theme, while our Project Development Committee explores additional partnership and grant-making opportunities.
"The changes we are making this year, and in the years to follow, aren't random," says current League President Jan Hickman. "They will allow us to make a more focused and relevant impact on our community, to recharge our members, and to recruit dynamic new women to the JLPA-MP."
So, why promote girls in STEM? The numbers offer a compelling case. Women in the United States earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees in all fields. Yet, just 18 percent of computer science degrees and 19 percent of engineering degrees go to women, the National Science Foundation reports.
Those disparities continue out in the workforce, where, according to a 2010 study by the Kauffman Foundation, just 7 percent of American tech startups are founded by women.
To help close that gap, the JLPA-MP is partnering with the Tech Museum of Innovation, which itself stemmed from a League task force in the late 1970s and was an official League project from 1983 to 1986. Today, the San Jose-based museum sponsors an annual Tech Challenge, a STEM competition that asks students in grades 4 to 12 to come up with a creative solution to a real-world engineering problem.
Over the coming year, League members will mentor middle school-age girls competing in the 2016 Tech Challenge. The League also will provide funding and volunteer support to establish "Girls @ The Tech Days" and a "Girls @ The Tech Committee," both of which will work to engage local students in STEM education through hands-on workshops, interactive exhibits and inspiring female speakers from the tech industry.
Our second new community project pairs us with Technovation, a global technology entrepreneurship program and competition for girls ages 10-18 that was founded in Mountain View five years ago. With the aid of a volunteer coach or teacher along with a professional mentor, participants in Technovation work to research, design, build and launch mobile apps that solve existing problems in their communities.
The JLPA-MP's Technovation Capacity Building Committee will support Technovation participants from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties by recruiting coaches and mentors and organizing events such as field trips to local tech companies and a regional pitch event to help prepare them for the main competition.
The League's new "Girls in STEM" focus will last five years, and is part of a shift among Junior Leagues across the country to a model known as Issue-Based Community Impact, which replaces loosely connected community projects and volunteer activities with a streamlined, issue-based approach that aims to make significant, measurable and long-lasting change in the community.
"What all of this comes down to," Ms. Hickman explains, "is making our League more relevant and visible to the surrounding community."
We hope you're familiar with some of the JLPA-MP's past successes; we're certainly proud of them. But we're even more excited about the successes still to come.
Visit thejuniorleague.org for more information.