The existing gender disparities in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields
underscore the need for outreach programs to help engage young women in such areas.
Founded in 2006 by Vicki Weston, FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering and
Science) is a student-led organization at Duke University that hosts educational outreach
programs related to math, science, and engineering for 4th-6th grade girls in Durham.
By incorporating engaging, hands-on activities into all of our programs, we allow the girls to
learn in a fun, supportive environment and explore their potential in the STEM fields. We hope
to build our participants’ confidence in their academic skills and to empower them to pursue
their dreams. Many of our students’ parents and teachers have told us that after attending
FEMMES, the girls become more motivated, participate more in class, and show a greater
interest in school. The real power of our program lies in the way we use female role models to
demonstrate how women can and do excel in these fields. In all components of FEMMES,
female students and faculty members volunteer their time to instill enthusiasm about their
careers in the developing minds of young women. Through the years, our volunteers have
developed personal relationships with the participants and have had a positive influence on
their attitudes towards STEM fields. Our programs provide excellent opportunities for female
faculty and students to serve as role models and provide mentor-ship.
The FEMMES organization seeks to improve female participation in STEM subjects with three
main components: an annual one-day capstone event, an after-school program, and a summer
The capstone event at Duke University is held each Spring. The capstone event is a free
program held on a Saturday from 9:00AM-4:00PM for 4th-6th grade students in the Durham
area. This year, we will be hosting more than 275 girls at Duke, which is the most participation
we have had since FEMMES was founded in 2006. The day includes keynote speakers who
explain their roles in their particular STEM fields and the paths that led them to those roles,
followed by two morning activities, lunch, two afternoon activities, and closing remarks. Each
hands-on activity is designed and led by female faculty members, female graduate students,
and STEM undergraduate female organizations. Participants are placed in groups of 12-15 girls
led by 2-3 undergraduate or graduate student volunteers who guide the participants through
four different activities held in the engineering, science, math, and laboratory buildings on
campus. As an assessment of our program, surveys are given to the participants prior to, on the
day of, and six weeks after the capstone event.
Despite the success of the capstone event, we understand the need for continuous outreach in
order to maintain interest. Studies have shown that while one-day events produce great short
term effects on interest and confidence, they may not last long enough to really influence a
child’s drive and ambition. For this reason, the FEMMES concept was expanded in Spring 2008
to an after-school mentor-ship program that fosters long-term relationships and constant
encouragement. This mentor-ship opportunity invites 4th-6th grade girls to learn from Duke
students for six weeks per semester at select elementary schools in the Durham area. Student
volunteers travel to several Durham schools throughout the week to lead activities that expose
girls to more applications of science, engineering, and math and to teach fundamental concepts
in an engaging, hands-on manner. Some activities that we have done in the past include
designing egg-drop parachutes and trebuchets (Physics and Engineering), performing ink
chromatography (Chemistry), and making respiratory system models (Biology). An after-school
committee meets throughout the year to design activities for the curriculum, acquire materials,
and train the volunteers ahead of time so that all activities run smoothly.
In addition to our weekday after-school program, we decided to add a six-week Saturday series
in Fall 2009. The Saturday series, held on Duke’s West Campus, integrates activities that parallel
the ones we plan for the after-school program. However, instead of going to the elementary
schools during the week, we invite sixty 4th-6th graders to Duke to do the activities.This way,
we are able to reach out to other young girls who do not attend the elementary schools with
whom we have partnered with for our after-school program. We plan to continue the Saturday
series as a vital component of our after-school program.
This past August, FEMMES also held its fourth annual week-long summer day camp at Duke for fifty
5th-6th grade Durham girls. Duke University undergraduate and graduate females served as
both counselors and mentors. A past summer program’s theme was Forensic Science, during which we
incorporated fun hands-on activities, such as fingerprint analysis, DNA extraction from cheek
cells, blood spatter analysis, footprint impression, and powder analysis. In addition,
participants were introduced to several exciting STEM research projects being conducted on
Duke’s campus including the Smart Home and the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment
(DiVE), a six-sided virtual reality theater. A field trip to the Duke Lemur Center has been
integrated into the summer camp curriculum as well. The camp was a huge success, and we are
in the process of establishing this summer camp program as a long-standing component of FEMMES.
If you would like your daughter to be involved, please keep an eye out for registration updates for our various programs, posted on our homepage!