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Groups work to expand access to STEM learning

November 8 marks National STEM Day.

ATLANTA — November 8 marks National STEM Day, a day to encourage kids to explore their interests in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

Yet in spite of the ongoing push for STEM and STEAM learning, women, Black and Hispanic workers have historically been underrepresented in STEM occupations.

According to 2019 census data, women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce but only 27% of STEM workers.

Sharon Estroff is one of those working to expand access to STEM and STEAM learning. As founder of "Challenge Island," an academic program with more than 100 locations in the U.S. and across the world, Estroff praises the collaboration and innovation students can gain through STEM and STEAM learning. 

She sums it up as "a mindset as opposed to a subject." 

"The problem solving, flexibility and the innovation, the ability to think outside the box," Estroff explained, "I mean coming out of this pandemic, never have we seen more clearly how important it is that the next generation is able to be quick on their feet and to be, as we call it on Challenge Island, bend like a palm tree when the winds come."

On Saturday, Estroff was joined by students from Horizons Atlanta, an educational program that supports students from underserved communities. The special event was one of many she joined over the past week in conjunction with the launch of the first book in her new Challenge Island book series: Bridge to Sharktooth Island. 

To celebrate, students from Horizons joined a "pop art" building challenge combining Andy Warhol and engineering skills. Each student also received a free copy of Estroff's book. 

"STEM instruction has become an integral part of the programming across our ten Horizons Atlanta sites because we know mastery of these skills will open up opportunities for our scholars in the future," Alex Wan, Executive Director, Horizons Atlanta, said. "Activities like Challenge Island help build our scholars' confidence in their knowledge, inspiring the joy of learning and setting them up for further success in school and beyond." 

As the push for STEM and STEAM learning continues, Estroff said she's starting to see such methods embraced more as part of schools' everyday curriculum for all students, rather than enrichment for a few. 

"I think that actually Georgia is really on the cutting edge with creating Georgia STEM schools," Estroff added. "That is so important for every child to have that...ability."

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