August 6, 2011

Putting Girls In Charge Of Their Future

Melanie Balog  /  Post and Courier

Millibeth Currie's middle school experience might be similar to yours, your sister's or your daughter's.

She loved her science classes, but when she moved from a small elementary school to the bigger middle school, she went silent. As a result, she veered off a possible career path.

Currie, who chairs the science department at Moultrie Middle School, wanted girls to see the connection between what they're learning and what careers are available to them.

So since 2002, up to 50 girls have participated in the Women in Charge program, where they learn confidence through the ropes course at James Island County Park, use the same lab equipment that Clemson students do in the DNA learning center, and decode the chemistry behind cosmetics.

The full name of the program is "Women in Charge, Engineering Women's Lives," or, as Currie explained, "getting girls to know they can truly design the life they want. Plan where you land."

The middle school years are a time when it's easy to get lost in the crowd, and the conflicting notions of bowing to peer pressure and finding one's own identity can make for some confusing experiences.

"There's just a demand, a need among female students, that age group," Currie said. "They need to belong."

Girls are nominated for the two-year program by the faculty, and emphasis is given to accepting those who wouldn't otherwise get such an opportunity.

Currie spends a good portion of time seeking funding, so the news that the Charleston Digital Corridor chose her program as a beneficiary of its registration fees from its 2011 15k race was indeed welcome.

Ernest Andrade, founder and director of the Charleston Digital Corridor, looks forward to the role his group can play in introducing girls to local digital companies.

"The tendency is to think of these industries as being male- dominated," Andrade said, which many of them are. But as more women choose careers in software and digital development, more opportunities will be available, and this is a great local way to show girls what their options are.

Even if the girls in the program don't go on to study molecular biology or become web programmers, they're empowered to explore possibilities that they might not have otherwise. One of the first students in the program was Oprah Bryant, someone Currie knew had potential but was going to be overlooked.

Bryant responded eagerly when Currie put out a call to her former students on Facebook. Bryant described how she went from being very shy to being empowered to ask questions and stand up for herself. Bryant just finished her bachelor's degree in social work, graduating cum laude, and is off to graduate school this fall. "To be honest I don't think I would have made it this far without WIC. Women in Charge found the potential in me that no one else has ever seen and the voice that no one has ever heard."

There could be no better endorsement of Currie's efforts or the program's success.

Someone should put Currie in charge of replicating the program throughout the state so even more girls can benefit.

**Editor Note: In addition to the Digital Corridor, our member companies that participated financially in this program are Sparc, Envoronmental Express, PeopleMatter, Avista Solutions, Social 123 and Surya Biofertilizers. **