Strong, smart and bold: Academic enrichment and support for young women

Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta helps girls build enthusiasm for STEM learning

Doubling program participation amid a global pandemic is a badge that Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta can wear proudly.

Particularly in a time where virtual fatigue and accessibility have been consistent key issues facing educators around the globe, Girls Inc. did what so many others had to in order to compensate for lost in-person programming.

They got creative.

“We tried out virtual programming and realized that not everyone has access to such infrastructure or resources—sometimes the girls were just done with it,” says Nanase Tonda, Executive Director of Girls Inc. “We started sending out kits and doing curbside delivery to really engage the girls and ensure access for those who could not, or choose not to, attend virtually.”

Kits would include anything from arts and crafts to experiments and other methods of hands-on learning. In lieu of physical instruction, Girls Inc. hoped to still spark interest in STEM-related topics.

“It was important to us that they knew that we were here for them.”

For over 30 years, Girls Inc. has provided underserved girls aged 6 to 18 in the Wood Buffalo region with the skills and knowledge needed to break free from gender stereotypes, create social change and be proud of who they are. In short, they aim to inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold.

In 2020, nearly a third of the participants (31.3%) were from Indigenous communities, mainly Dene, Cree and Metis in surrounding communities.

Enbridge has a history of supporting Girls Inc. as part of our commitment to improving the quality of life in communities near our operations. We gave $5,000 and $2,500 to the organization in 2020 and 2021, respectively, to support the Reaching SMART program and the recent MOSAIC: Women of Inspiration Virtual Celebration this past March.

Operation SMART and Reaching SMART are two core programs of Girls Inc. The former is a 10-to-12-week program in the fall, and the latter is built on best practices to provide a trial opportunity for more girls to explore the world of STEM through a harmonized lens of Indigenous and Western aspects of STEM in workshops.

“We can’t achieve academic enrichments or critical thinking enhancement without our partners,” says Tonda. “The funding goes directly towards the implementation and development of programs.”

Looking forward, Tonda says the organization is strategically planning its future around bridging the gap for systemically marginalized learning opportunities—inspired largely around learnings from the past year—and reaching older adolescents and young women, an untapped audience thus far.

“I see collectively and individually around me how we are attempting to seriously address what kind of barriers exist for girls and what affects them the most, depending on how and where each girl is situated in society,” says Tonda. “It’s all about finding your own voice, transforming it and doing what you can to make change—no matter how small.”

(TOP PHOTO: During a Reaching SMART workshop at Fort McMurray 468 First Nation, girls 3D printed beads and learned patience through beading as an important Indigenous value. They also learned how to design 3D printable models and ways of using 3D printing as a biodegradable, cost- and time-effective social entrepreneurial tool.)