Women hold less than a third of the STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—related jobs in the United States, but a modest program out of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa math department is working to turn that around. Since 2016, female UH Mānoa students in STEM fields have been mentoring female high and middle school aged students.

“A lot of these fields, especially in STEM, it’s still male dominated, and it can be intimidating,” said Olivia Murray, mentor and UH Mānoa computer science major. “And just for them to see another girl who was successful in the field, I think that would be really encouraging for them.”

“I really think it is really important that kids, especially girls, have an opportunity to get exposed to different kinds of math and more math especially if they are really curious like these girls are,” said Isabella Tobin, mentor and PhD candidate in math.

U H Manoa student mentor for Kalani High School students

They meet on the Mānoa campus once a week and are guided through subjects like computer coding and advance math by young women excelling in those fields.

“These mentors have really helped me in my real life and my school life because, you know, coding and the math that we’ve learned, I didn’t learn in school and I didn’t really even think there was a whole world beyond what I was learning in school,” said Aedan Azeka, Kalani High School student.

This group of Kalani High School students had an out-of-this-world experience thanks to the help of their mentors. They participated in a NASA project where an experiment they designed was lifted to the edge of the atmosphere and back in a stratospheric balloon. The weekly mentoring and projects are in addition to their high school work and activities, but they say it’s worth the extra time and effort.

“I learned beyond what other students in my class learn,” said Mandarine Chyba Rabeendran, Kalani High School student. “I kind of question what we are learning instead of just learning it.”

Music to the ears of the mentors, who want their students to truly understand concepts and not just memorize equations and answers.

“It’s just nice to have these random skills and to apply in life if we need them and shout out to Olivia and Bella for helping us with this,” said Maya Manaligold, Kalani High School student.

And for helping shape the next generation of female STEM superstars.