Book Talk circle

Making STEM Cool for Girls

by Bryan Wendell
When her youngest son was in elementary school, Sarah Pretz Foster ’02 volunteered at his school, bringing to the classroom her years of experience as a research and development engineer for biotech companies.

As she shared fun STEM lessons with the youngest students — kindergarten, first grade, second grade — Foster noticed that the girls were just as eager to raise their hands as the boys. But something was concerningly different when she moved to fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms.

“The girls were a little more reserved at that point,” Foster says. “They weren’t jumping in as often as the boys were. It really surprised me to see that gender gap happening so early.”

Foster saw an opportunity for change.

Sarah Pretz Foster headshot
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“I wanted to provide a resource for girls to see what you can do at any age,” Sarah Pretz Foster ’02 says.
“I really wanted to work with young girls to catch that excitement and energy in STEM before they chose a different path,” she says.

That passion became STEM Like a Girl, a nonprofit that offers hands-on and virtual STEM workshops for girls in Portland, Ore., where Foster now lives with her husband, Bryan Foster ’01, and their two sons. It also inspired Foster’s first book, STEM Like a Girl: Empowering Knowledge and Confidence to Lead, Innovate, and Create.


The book includes 15 hands-on STEM experiments for girls ages 8 to 12.

A girl can use a paper cup and bag to make an air-powered cannon, extract DNA from a strawberry or learn about the chemical reactions inside fizzy bath bombs.

Each activity can be completed with a family member — even those who don’t have a degree in chemical engineering like Foster. And most of the supplies are already tucked away in a kitchen drawer.

“There’s so much you can do with craft sticks and rubber bands,” Foster says.


STEM Like a Girl pairs its experiments with profiles of inspiring 8- to 12-year-old girls.

By the time a girl reaches the book’s end, Foster hopes she’s offered a window into the opportunities ahead.

“I think about the girl who might be into science and not have any friends to talk about that with,” Foster says. “She can see all these other girls that are just like her.”

STEM Like a Girl: Empowering Knowledge and Confidence to Lead, Innovate, and Create, Sarah Pretz Foster ’02. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2021
Alumni Books
Peter Balakian ’73
No Sign (The University of Chicago Press, 2022)
In this collection of poems, Balakian, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrestles with national and global cultural and political realities, including challenges for the human species amid planetary transmutation and the impact of mass violence on the self and culture.

John Yeigh ’77
Win the Youth Sports Game: How Ordinary Kids Can Thrive (Skyhorse Publishing, 2021)
Yeigh narrates how ordinary kids can progress, survive and thrive within today’s billion-dollar youth-sports industrial complex. The 15-year developmental trek from toddler to collegiate athlete is chronicled while juxtaposing the real-life challenges that athletes in all sports must endure and overcome.

Karin Gwinn Wilkins ’84
Prisms of Prejudice: Mediating the Middle East from the United States (University of California Press, 2021)
Exploring a wide range of media, the author illuminates the shape and scope of problematic narratives about the Middle East and explores ways to counter these prisms of prejudice through informed and engaged strategic intervention in critical communication literacy.

Jill Garripoli Pedalino ’99
You Are Abundant: A Children’s Guide to Fulfillment Through the Power of Gratitude and Appreciation (Book Baby, 2022)
Pediatrician Jill Garripoli Pedalino ’99 offers a message of gratitude, mindfulness and positive thinking. She aims to equip children with the tools and strategies necessary to help them thrive despite the disruption and adversity caused by the ongoing pandemic.

Photo: Acorn Studios