How one Girl Scout is breaking boundaries in science and tech
See how this Girl Scout turned entrepreneur is making STEM education more equitable.
Maansi Nema is the first to admit, as one of only three girls in her computer science class, she felt intimidated. It’s an experience this go-getter wouldn’t wish on anyone, so she sought to change it.
Now, this high school senior from Michigan is the founder and chief executive officer of STEM Without Boundaries, a nonprofit organization committed to inspiring students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Nema credits her time in Girl Scouts – she’s been a member since she was in kindergarten – for giving her the confidence she needed to pursue her dreams at such a young age.
“I truly think that it’s all the support that I’ve gotten from my Girl Scout community, from my team, and working alongside such inspiring people that gives me a sense of purpose and vision for what I want to do and what I would hope to see in the future,” she said.
That future includes a STEM workforce that’s more equitable, with everyone getting the same opportunities, regardless of gender, race or socio-economic background. “It’s so important as we move toward a more tech-driven world,” said Nema.
Going for the gold
In 2020, Nema earned Girl Scouts’ prestigious Gold Award. Earning a Gold Award prompted her to start her nonprofit, which now boasts a team of 54 high school and college students across the country.
“I feel so blessed every day to be a part of this awesome team and work with all these passionate people who just really care about making a difference in their community and making sure that STEM access in education is for everyone,” she said.
The Girl Scout Gold Award is Girl Scouts’ highest award. Girl Scouts in ninth through 12th grades who are at the senior or ambassador levels earn the Gold Award.
The award, which has been around since 1916, stands for “excellence and leadership for girls,” said Leatrice Thompson, manager of Council Programs for Girl Scouts.
Every year, approximately 15 to 25 Girl Scouts earn a Gold Award.
To earn this award, a Girl Scout must choose a community issue they care about and put together a project plan to show how they would address the issue to make a difference in their community. They must also present their plan to the Gold Award Panel and take action to carry it out.
By earning a Gold Award, a Girl Scout not only gets to grow her professional skills – she also has the chance to get college scholarships and create real change in her community.
Nema said she gained valuable skills while earning her Gold Award.
“It helped me find what I’m passionate about and find myself as a person,” she said. “I used to be really shy and it was hard for me to take initiative – but you get to build a go-getter kind of attitude when you work on your Gold Award.”
Nema added that she got to hone her time management and goal-setting skills, two things that helped her during the college application process, while working on her Gold Award.
As the leader of STEM Without Boundaries, Nema has also learned a lot about empathy in the workspace, especially when it comes to mental health and being mindful of what’s going on in other people’s lives.
“Not everyone is in the same place at all times, so it’s about being respectful of everyone’s schedules and what they’re going through,” she said.
Making STEM education more equitable
For her Gold Award, Nema decided to host STEM Nights in her community.
“The reason I chose STEM specifically was because I felt like I hadn’t been introduced to STEM at a young age,” she said. “When I was in my computer science class, there were a ton of guys, and all of them had been coding and were part of these robotics clubs since they were really young.”
She wanted to give other girls the opportunity to experience STEM at a younger age, so she put together three in-person STEM Nights, all before the pandemic hit. A whopping 734 people showed up for the third event.
“A STEM Night is essentially a place for families to come together with their kids and explore different fields of STEM, whether it’s tech or aerospace,” explained Nema. “They got to meet mentors and role models in these careers, including college students who are currently pursuing those majors.”
Nema described the STEM Nights as a “STEM carnival,” noting that kids got the chance to learn about each field through interactive, hands-on activities, such as making slime. There was even food and a DJ.
“Afterward, I realized that this was so awesome because it brought my community together,” said Nema. “It sparked discussions in my community, and I ended up talking to the superintendent and assistant superintendent about how we can improve STEM equity and equality in the workforce and how schools specifically can empower students in elementary school to do that.”
Nema said she wanted every community – not just her own – to have this opportunity to introduce STEM to kids. As a result, the idea for STEM Without Boundaries was born.
The nonprofit trains high school students to host STEM Nights for young students in their own communities. STEM Without Boundaries gives teens the resources, mentorship and funding they need to make their STEM Nights a success.
“It’s a really great experience for students to get introduced to STEM at a younger age, rather than in college or maybe even later on in their adulthood,” said Nema.
Due to COVID-19, STEM Without Boundaries is currently hosting virtual STEM Nights, although Nema said she hopes they’ll be able to hold the events in person again, once the pandemic is over.
Mentoring future women leaders
Nema counts having a Gold Award mentor as one of the keys to her success with STEM Without Boundaries.
“Kenyatta, my Gold Award mentor, was the one who helped me and walked me through the entire process of setting up a nonprofit,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that without her.”
Nema wants to “pay it forward” by mentoring the next generation of women leaders – including her two younger sisters, who are also Girl Scouts.
“I always tell younger Girl Scouts to reach out if they ever need help,” she said, “and I make myself available for meetings and things like that.”
One thing she’d encourage younger Girl Scouts to do once they’re eligible? Earn their Gold Award, of course.
“It’s such an amazing experience – I can’t even put into words how cool it is,” she said. “You really get to delve into something you’re passionate about, and even if you don’t necessarily know what you’re passionate about, you’ll find it.”
Learn more about how Girl Scouts empowers young women, like Maansi Nema. Visit www.gssem.org/gold today.