Jacqueline Means - Photo Courtesy of Genesis Photography
15-year-old Jaqueline Means is from Southbridge Wilmington Delaware, a place where she describes shootings and robberies as a normal part of everyday life. Jackie shared with us that "the city has one of the highest dropout rates in the country", with more than 60% of young people dropping out of school every year. For her, the turning point came when she witnessed a shooting of someone close to her age and from then she knew that she "had to do something to provide a different picture of what life could look like" to the young people in her community. As a result, Jackie founded Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing STEM to underprivileged girls of Wilmington. She started by hosting Girls Empowerment STEM events two years ago and through these events, she has "been able to positively impact over 350 young girls".
You’ve already achieved so much for someone who hasn’t even left school yet! What drives you forward?
I stay motivated by consistently reminding myself of my goals. With my STEM Initiative, I want to positively impact as many young girls as possible and what drives me forward is knowing that continuing to serve my community will allow me to impact even more. I want girls to know that they can overcome negative stereotypes and become successful in the STEM field, where we currently remain underrepresented.
What do you love most about science?
I absolutely LOVE science, but what I adore about STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as a whole is that it does not exclude; it doesn't matter your age, race, religion, gender, or anything else, STEM is for everyone. Engineering and computer science account for more than 80% of the STEM workforce, and yet, in 2013, women comprised only 12% of working engineers and 26% of computing professionals. This is just one example of the underrepresentation of women in STEM.
Additionally having STEM skills is necessary for us to thrive in the 21st century and it is imperative that the youth of today are capable and prepared to live in a STEM-forward future.
What sort of challenges do women face when getting involved in the STEM industries?
I definitely believe that a major challenge women face is under-representation in STEM industries, which is something I hope to help change through my Girls Empowerment STEM Events.
Another challenge women face is that for too long, they have been told that they can only go into certain fields of work and that other fields, including STEM, were strictly for men. I feel that women are finally beginning to realize that they can break out of these expectations and forge their own way into whatever field they want to go into, be it STEM or anything else.
You founded a programme called Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, could you tell us a little bit more about this programme and what you hope to achieve?
The programme is a is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing STEM to underprivileged girls of Wilmington. I started hosting Girls Empowerment STEM Events two years ago. At these events, every girl is given the opportunity to take part in their own science experiments, including making slime and even ice-cream. They also get to participate in an interactive anti-bullying demonstration and listen to an inspiring talk from prominent women from their community, including Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester and Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall Long.
With my initiative, I have already seen an improvement in the lives of these girls by giving them a newfound love for STEM and changing negative mind-sets.
Have you always had a passion for giving back to the community?
I have defied the odds in Southbridge; I go to the Delaware Military Academy, where I maintain a 4.0 GPA and participate in multiple extracurriculars, including Business Professionals of America, Cheerleading, Track, and Model United Nations. But ever since I was little, my mom has told me to always give back to those who are in need. She said I was very fortunate to have two parents who loved and supported me, and that I should use what I’ve been blessed with to help others. I have always loved to give back because I know I am doing my part to make Southbridge a better place for everyone.
Where do you find the confidence to speak out?
I wasn’t always confident at speaking out but over the years I've become a much better public speaker through having to make speeches at awards ceremonies (NAACP Youth Visionary Award and the Mayor of Wilmington Award for Community Service) and talks at the Junior League of Wilmington Leadership Summit and at TEDx Wilmington.
Is there a woman in the STEM field that you currently look up to and admire?
Absolutely! I just love Dr Teri Quinn-Grey. She is a chemist for the DuPont Company and a wonderful person! She was a speaker at one of my first Girls Empowerment STEM Events, and she spoke about the importance and power of believing in one’s own abilities, which I still use to this day.
What advice would you give to young women like yourself who are on the brink of deciding what they might want to do in the future?
You’re still young! There's no need to stress about what career you are going to be in right now. The best advice I can give would be to do your best in school, whether you are in elementary school, middle school, or high school. You want to set yourself up to have as many opportunities as possible, and good grades will help make that happen.
What would you like to achieve in 2019?
I want to branch out! The biggest challenge I am currently facing would be outreach. I am only able to impact Southbridge, which is a small part of Wilmington. I know there are many young girls out there who need inspiration and a role model, I’m just unable to reach them. The fact that I can't reach the other girls of Wilmington isn’t the only problem; I’m also unable to supply for them. Everything at the events, from the free food to the gloves on the girls’ hands, comes from partnerships, donations, or money out of my parents’ pockets. The only solution is to raise more money with more bake sales or fundraisers or to partner with more people that’d be willing to donate money. I’d like to do this so that I can impact more girls and give them an even better experience!
To find out more about Jacqueline's STEM initiative follow her on Instagram and for more inspiration watch Jacqueline's TEDx Talk