Bill Clinton visits Girls Inc. STEM program grown with UMSL help

On Nov. 1, former President Bill Clinton visited participants in the Eureka! STEM Education for Underserved Girls program at Girls Inc. of St. Louis. UMSL education experts had a hand in the program’s development and success. (Images courtesy of KMOV)

When former President Bill Clinton walked into Girls Inc. of St. Louis last week, he was greeted by a VGo robot and a cohort of young girls who schooled him on the technology.

University of Missouri–St. Louis education experts Keith Miller and Amber Bell-Christian watched the unbelievable moment – one they hadn’t imagined when they first became involved in science, technology, engineering and math programming at the local north St. Louis County nonprofit.

Part of a national network of Girls Inc. sites, it offers educational programming that empowers and inspires girls and young women to navigate gender, economic and social barriers while growing up smart, strong and bold.

One such effort is the summer Eureka! STEM Education for Underserved Girls program, which Miller, the Orthwein Endowed Professor for Lifelong Learning in the Sciences, and Bell-Christian, a program producer for the ED Collabitat at UMSL, helped design and implement at Girls Inc. For four consecutive summers, it provides girls two hours of STEM activities a day for four weeks at Girls Inc.

Girls Inc. students show off some of their programming and robotics knowledge to former President Bill Clinton.

Bell-Christian and Miller had previously piloted a Girls Tech program there, and its early success sparked Cheryl Jones, the CEO and president of Girls Inc. of St. Louis, to capitalize on that progress and start the national Eureka! program locally.

“I was excited to know that the girls would have years to gain skills in science, technology, engineering and math and even happier that the girls would have time to build their confidence in these areas with a family-like cohort,” Bell-Christian said. “This would give the girls an opportunity to learn what career fields were possible with STEM backgrounds.

“After the first year, we noticed that we had something good because of the number of people willing to volunteer time as expert facilitators and donors.”

But neither Bell-Christian nor Miller would have imagined that the program would attract funding from The Clinton Foundation let alone a visit from Clinton himself.

“The idea is to make sure that they explore all their abilities, develop their minds as much as possible and then make an informed choice about what they want to do,” Clinton told KMOV (Channel 4).

Since the Eureka! program’s inception three years ago, Bell-Christian has volunteered each week of the summer program and enlisted the help of UMSL ED Collabitat student worker and social work major Candice Clossum.

“I’ve watched girls enter and leave the program being stronger and more interested in STEM,” said Clossum, who also attended the former president’s visit. “I like to tell the girls you never know who is watching. I never thought that a former president would put St. Louis on the map to visit for their foundation. It was truly a humbling experience. Hopefully, this raises awareness that girls can do STEM, and that they can do anything they put their minds to.”

UMSL is responsible for the first two summers of Eureka! programming along with Maryville University and has partnered with Washington University in St. Louis to take on the last two summers of the program.

In addition to his Girls Inc. visit, Clinton also stopped by two other Clinton Foundation-backed projects in St. Louis including Gateway Elementary School’s exercise and nutrition program and a Metro-bus-turned-grocery-store helping increase food accessibility.

The UMSL Experience

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