The College of Arts & Sciences at UM-Flint is proud to recognize some of the exceptional women of our STEM disciplines. As leaders, mentors, and educators, these women bring passion and talent to our students, classrooms, and the world of science, technology, engineering, and math.
A Leader in the Curiosity Academy
Samantha Grathoff is a lab coordinator, community engagement liaison, and adjunct lecturer for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in UM-Flint’s College of Arts & Sciences. She’s also one of the directors of the Curiosity Academy: a community club that engages middle school girls, mostly 6th to 8th graders, who have an interest in STEM subjects.
The Academy aims to reignite the girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and math at an age when they may be moving away from such disciplines. Through fun projects and activities, the students are connected to educators and professionals in various STEM fields. Noted one recent student, “Curiosity Academy has been an amazing experience and I love that I got to do cool science projects with my friends. My favorite activities were sending the remote controlled cars down a zipline, doing the plant scavenger hunt, and, of course, going on cool field trips!”
Grathoff works “in all aspects of the program, from writing grant applications, developing lesson plans, advertising, and recruiting students, to recruiting speakers, coordinating field trips, developing a peer mentorship program, and, of course, working with the girls during their time with us.” She shares duties with fellow program directors Monique Wilhelm and Essence Wilson.
The Curiosity Academy’s mission closely aligns with Grathoff’s personal interests. Said Grathoff, “I believe that far too many people are intimidated by science, think that it’s only for ‘nerds’, or think that it’s a secluded community. I love to break those stereotypes by providing fun and interactive activities that explain scientific concepts and engage people.”
Grathoff’s desire for an inclusive community and increased confidence for her students is already being realized. Fifteen-year-old Alexis was asked what she likes about Curiosity Academy. She replied, “The sense of community it provides for all those in the program.” Her mother echoed the sentiment, saying, “It’s not about the exclusion of boys, that has not been an issuse for Alexis, she can and does speak out in class. It’s more about my daughter learning a sense of community with other females. . . I found a program that embodies that.”
Added Grathoff, “Curiosity Academy has transformed girls from being reserved and quiet to outspoken and confident. It’s incredible that a program that meets only two hours per week can so strongly influence the participants.”
A Love of Learning
When asked how she knew a career in STEM was right for her, Grathoff replied, “I was interested in math and science by elementary school. I recall doing workbooks for fun during the summers and having my parents quiz me on math at stores. It wasn’t until high school, however, that my true passion developed. I enrolled in physics, honors chemistry, and almost every biology class my high school offered. The material didn’t come naturally to me, but I loved learning it.”
Grathoff credits both her high school teachers and her parents for fostering her love of the STEM disciplines: “My high school science teachers shared their passion and enthusiasm with me and developed wonderful projects that really engaged me. I loved to see how much they enjoyed their careers, and how much fun STEM could be. My parents also inspired me. They helped me pursue my interests and gain experiences that would help advance my education.”
Grathoff’s role in the Curiosity Academy as a mentor is one that’s appreciated by both her students and their parents. Angie, one of the Academy parents, noted, “I think that the time and energy that these women put into our young women is remarkable and ‘grateful’ is really the best word to describe my feelings. The role models and examples they are [is] truly a blessing for my daughter and all of the girls.”
Connecting with the Future
The Curiosity Academy is open to its participants for a small but important window of time in their lives. “My hope is that after Curiosity Academy, the girls’ perseverance, passion, and enthusiasm for STEM continues, regardless of roadblocks that they may encounter,” said Gratthoff. “Even if they decide that STEM isn’t the career for them, I hope that they can take what they’ve learned from Curiosity Academy and apply it to their personal and professional lives.”
For some of the girls, the Academy has already made a difference in their plans. Seventh grader Madison said, “Curiosity Academy has really changed my ideas on what I would like to major in college or what I would like to do for my career. I now would like to possibly go for a chemistry major or maybe even math!” She’s also found that it’s had a positive effect on her time in school: “Curiosity Academy really expanded my knowledge of science. I learned a lot more about plants, fossils, robotics, and so much more… Because of it, I learned a lot before it was even discussed at school, which helped me understand the topic a lot more.”
Madison has also absorbed the example of mentorship that Grathoff shows every day: “I love being a girl who loves STEM! it helps other girls at school see that girls can love topics like science and math, too!”
Whether they are interested in STEM disciplines or not, Grathoff believes “young girls should do what they enjoy doing, not what others think they should do.” She advises students to “try activities that you’ve never tried before. Put effort into every subject in school, even if you don’t think you like it. You never know what you’ll end up liking. Finally, don’t stop exploring. Ask questions, foster new friendships, and stay busy! It’s never too late to explore a new interest, whether it’s academic or for fun.”
Join the 2016-17 Curiosity Academy
Applications are now being accepted for this year’s Curiosity Academy class. The deadline is October 10, 2016. Admission is based solely on program interest and is limited to 24 participants. Partial and full tuition assistance is available.
To learn more about the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UM-Flint, and their opportunities for students of all ages, visit their website at umflint.edu/chemistry. To connect with Samantha Grathoff, email firstname.lastname@example.org.