By Amy Falkofske
When Monica Nichols, President and Founder of Pink Space Theory, launched into her college career at
Michigan State University as an engineering student, she found she lacked the needed math skills despite ranking in the top 10% of her high school class. This experience drove her desire to help better prepare other girls of color for success in STEM careers.
“Our mission is to expose, engage and empower underserved youth, especially girls, with STEM or STEAM learning experiences to prepare them for their future career paths and their passions,” said Nichols.
Closing the Gap
Even though Nichols felt ill-prepared to pursue an engineering degree in college, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Arts from Michigan State University. She also holds a Master of Science Degree from Virginia Tech and a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction from Marymount University.
“My own personal STEM journey and challenges opened up the door so that I can become an advocate for the young ladies who are not where they need to be, but to let them know that won’t negate you from pursuing your dream of becoming an engineer,” said Nichols.
Nichols also wants to send the message that you don’t have to be a whiz in math to pursue a STEM career.
“I think a lot of times that girls may not want to pursue a STEM career because they think, ‘Well, I’m not good enough. I’m not good at math.’ It’s about letting students know that you don’t have to be a whiz at science, math or even engineering. You just have to have the interest, and you have to be willing to put in the work if you are not strong in a particular subject. So it’s about closing the gap,” she said.
Including the Arts
Pink Space Theory goes beyond STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and incorporates creativity into their curriculum by adding an A for art to make STEAM. She notes there are several factors that affect whether or not many young females of color decide to pursue STEM (or STEAM) careers.
“There are three variables that I think play a role in my girls and students of color wanting to pursue STEM. I think it goes back to having an opportunity to see that STEM is fun and that you still can pursue a STEM or STEAM career without giving up your creativity, and then also being able to see yourself in particular STEM roles. Then I think it’s also important to help them build their confidence. Those are the three areas that our
programs primarily focus on,” she said.
Pink Space Theory’s Programs
Pink Space Theory offers STEAM hands-on programs that target early learners up through 12th grade.
“We want to complement what students are learning academically in the classroom, and we want to introduce them to new ways to approach those STEM subjects to help them understand those challenging concepts. Then lastly, we want to help stimulate students’ critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity, which is oftentimes referred to as 21st-century skills, and those are the skills all students will need to be successful in the workforce,” said Nichols.
The Girl Power program infuses social and emotional-related activities that help improve girls’ self-esteem. There’s also the G.R.E.A.T. Math Minds Program that offers an advanced math curriculum. The Make Tech Pink program gives girls an opportunity to learn how to code, while Girl Power-Intro to Green Living introduces students to engineering design and environmental and sustainability concepts. The programs are offered either after school or on the weekends.
Working with the Schools
Nichols stated that some schools in Prince William may not have the people, programs or material to offer hands-on innovative programs to students. Pink Space Theory works to address this need. Pink Space Theory programs are funded through grants or donations, allowing the organization to offer programs to schools at no cost.
“Our organization was set up to assist schools with offering programs that enhance students’ learning, so our organization really believes it’s important to go out and talk to Prince William County Public Schools, private schools and home school families to really understand where their gaps are,” she said.
Local teachers have expressed a need for more programs that build students’ math and language arts skills. Pink Space Theory’s G.R.E.A.T. Math Minds program teaches to the county’s math standards and even beyond, so students can go above what is being taught in the classroom.
Pink Space Theory recently won an AAUW Community Action Grant to offer one of its programs to the Prince William community. The organization is partnering with the AAUW Woodbridge Branch to offer the G.R.E.A.T. Math Minds program to 20 students at an area school.
Giving Back with STEAM Kits
The pandemic presented challenges in learning this school year, with most students learning virtually, so Pink Space Theory kicked off their STEAM For Everyone Project. The organization teamed up with local businesses such as Hendrick Honda, Lustine Toyota and Executive Auto to buy 200+ basketball catapult STEAM kits to donate to Marumsco Hills Elementary School’s second and third graders. Pink Space Theory also teamed up with PNC Bank and donated Rain Forest STEAM kits to Northern Virginia Family Service.
Looking to the Future
Pink Space Theory is in talks with a regional mobile fablab industry leader about bringing their program to Prince William.
Nichols hopes this will become the organization’s flagship program and expand its ability to reach students through project-based learning. The goal is to generate interest from local technology businesses to partner with Pink Space Theory to bring this program to the community and enhance students’ and teachers’ technological literacy.
If you would like more information about Pink Space Theory’s programs or to schedule a consultation, visit their website at pinkspacetheory.org.
Amy Falkofske is a freelance writer and photographer. She has a Master’s degree in Film-TV with a concentration in screenwriting. She lives in Bristow with her husband, two boys and two Beagle dogs.