Girls Own STEM!Project Bioteka brings together girls aged 14-18, who attend a three-year or four-year secondary school anywhere in Croatia and who can provide evidence of excellent STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in the last two years of study. Therefore, they had to have good assessments from subjects such as biology, IT, physics, chemistry and mathematics.

Fifty secondary school students

At the same time, most of them are girls whose parents, guardians or adoptive parents receive child benefit. Some girls are members of minorities (by national, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender identity), some of them live in a home for children or young people without appropriate parental care, some of them are people with special needs – meaning they have less difficulties that do not prevent them from doing their normal work and everyday activities, e.g. visual or hearing impairments, supervised illness. Some of the girls taking part in Girls own STEM! are people with special educational needs – gifted children. In summary, Girls own STEM! brought together fifty secondary school students from Croatia, especially those coming from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances, who decided to further develop their careers and work in STEM.

Sustainable development at local level

“Girls develop their own local projects that address one environmental, social or economic problem in their local environment, using STEM methods and approach, in line with the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Around 20 projects are now being implemented while remaining in the preparation phase,” says Jelena Likić, President of Bioteka and Girls own STEM project manager! Some girls ‘return long’ to their primary schools and kindergartens who attended and organise STEM education for even younger children and young people, where they bring various volunteers and professionals, often their former teachers and professors to help them create content.

The Girls own STEM! project brought together secondary school students from Croatia, especially those coming from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds and circumstances, who opted for further career development and work in STEM.

Part of the projects also addresses the problem of young people who have virtually no activities in their smaller towns, so that leaks have designed a dozen different activities, in cooperation with the municipality, the city and local companies. Some of the equipment came from donations and some from the budget allocated to them by Bioteka. Each project has EUR 660 at its disposal. These bulls can be combined if the girls design some activities that they will carry out together.

“For example, we have two beekeeping projects in which girls want to engage the local community and raise the bee population in Zagreb, Samobor and surrounding villages. The first beekeeping project deals with the installation of ‘hotel’ for wild bees, after which the idea is to merge with self-borrow beekeepers to generate additional benefits for the wider community. One girl in Jastrebarski proposed that first aid boxes with basic medical equipment be installed in several places in the city, similar to the defibrillators we can find in some public garages. Public first aid boxes would be used in emergency situations to repair minor injuries, as most people do not carry bandages, plasters, sterile compresses, scissors, etc. It will also install sensors to monitor the contents of these boxes so that what is missing from the equipment in each box can be quickly identified,” Jelena Likić explains.

Girls face an interdisciplinary way of working rarely, where, for example, they have presented issues and solutions to their challenges such as “colonisation of Mars” or “Chat GPT”.

Theinterdisciplinary approach

The specific part of Gorls own STEM! training was the three-day Winter Camp in Zagreb at the end of January and early February. Seven workshops were held in which girls were more familiar with STEM areas of human activity, a series of training sessions that will benefit them in further developing project ideas, and two panels with STEM experts to discuss the problems they face. Another important part of the Winter camp was the socialising and familiarisation of girls with similar interests from different parts of Croatia. Girls face an interdisciplinary way of working as they rarely encounter, in which, for example, they have presented issues and solutions to the challenges they face, such as ‘colonisation of Mars’ or ‘Chat GPT’. Interestingly, some of them are already widely programmed.


Comprehensive mentoring

“Our project aims to give girls as many practical work as possible and develop the skills they lack, and they are necessary in today’s very changing world, where we do not know what the needs of the labour market will look like for several years, so that problem-solving skills are more than needed. Mentorily do everything we can, from writing forms and communiqués, to presenting ideas, to how to shape project proposals in the first place. We can call this as the basis for project management. We also ask them to answer what to do if the project fails. It, to develop both a plan b and a c-scenario plan. We are at every step with them – we review the documentation they produce, suggest to them how they can do better, and they also keep track of the projects themselves, for example writing how much they work with the media, where they have received a project report, how many volunteers have volunteers and how they have engaged them, they must have all their activities and photographs, etc. The project runs for just a year and a half, so we will not follow most of these girls until the selection of studies, but we will help them meet the different STEM fields and make it easier to choose their future university and STEM careers,” says Jelena Likić.

The aim of the project is to give girls as many practical work as possible and develop the skills they lack, which are necessary in today’s very changing world where we do not know what the needs of the labour market will look like in a few years.

Bioteka is the main and only project promoter of Girls own STEM!so there are no formal project partners, but only associates, highlighting the 3M company on the project from the beginning. Bioteka brought together fifty girls through calls sent to schools, municipalities and cities and some other associations with various initiatives in all Croatian counties.

“We carried out the competition in two rounds, where the girls appeared in accordance with the terms of reference. The main condition was that they were girls from difficult socio-economic situations and were from less developed parts of our country. So, we were looking for girls who for some reason do not have the same conditions of development compared to the ‘average’ girl of their age in Croatia. In the end, we were given a quite mixed group of girls. It was a rather bi-monthly job, because it is a rather self-secret population,” says Jelena Likić.

Permanent activity

Girls own STEM! is a project that implements an innovative way of training that Bioteka has been running for a decade and has so far not used it ‘on the ground’ and with a population with which it had no direct contact previously. “This is a kind of experiment and for us we are very interested in what leaks will do. If everything happens as predicted, we will strive to make at least part of this project a permanent business. We also aim to create a start-up incubator for young girls’ projects. We will also look for new sources of funding, as the need for this kind of training is increasing. One aspect of all this is the fight against prejudices towards STEM, especially in smaller areas, where these skills are often perceived as not for girls,” concludes by Jelena Likić, who also invites interested companies and donors, who are interested in this approach, to come forward and participate in supporting these giant, valuable and creative girls.

Girls own STEM! is implementing the Bioteka project with financial support from 3M through the GlobalGiving international foundation, and since December 2022 the project donors have joined MET Croatia Energy Trade.

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