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5 Girls Win Top Spots In Middle School National STEM Contest In History-Making Sweep

Photo Credit: Broadcom MASTERS

History was made last week at the Broadcom MASTERS National STEM competition when 5 14-year-old girls swept the top spots. Not only did the female participants dominate the top 5, but girls also took home the majority of the prizes, snagging 12 out of the 18 cash awards.

The Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) is a U.S. Science and Engineering competition designed specifically for middle school students. It is open to students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade across the country. This year a pool of 2,348 applicants from 47 states was whittled down to 30 finalists – 18 girls and 12 boys – the first time in the competition’s history that girls ruled the majority. Winners were selected out of the 30 finalists by a panel of distinguished scientists, engineers and educators.

Paula Golden, President of the Broadcom Foundation, addressed the history-making event.

Congratulations to all our amazing finalists! It is exciting to see so many young women scientists and engineers – 60% – in the competition this year. I believe that this bodes well for achieving greater gender equity in future STEM careers.

But the girls weren’t done yet. Not by a long shot. The first prize spot worth $25,000 was awarded to Alaina Gassler of West Grove, PA for her design to make vehicles safer by removing blind spots. Inspired by her mother’s contempt for driving the family Jeep Grand Cherokee, Alaina devised a system using a webcam and a projector to display real-time images to the driver of anything otherwise blocked by a vehicle’s A-pillar protection surrounding the windshield.

Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public and Publisher of Science News, congratulated Alaina on her win.

Congratulations to Alaina, whose project has the potential to decrease the number of automobile accidents by reducing blind spots. With so many challenges in our world, Alaina and her fellow Broadcom MASTERS finalists make me optimistic. I am proud to lead an organization that is inspiring so many young people, especially girls, to continue to innovate.

The other 4 girls rounding out the top 5?

Rachel Bergey, 14, Harleysville, PA: Trapping Invasive Insects to Protect Trees and Agriculture

Sidor Clare, 14, Sandy, UT: Making Bricks on Mars

Lauren Ejiga, 14, New Orleans, LA: Studying the Effects of Ozone Depletion

Alexis MacAvoy, 14, Hillsborough, CA: Designing Low-Cost Eco-Friendly Water Filters

When I was in middle school, I was doing science fair projects on “How Cats Communicate” and “How To Make A Rainbow Using A Prism.” I was focused on boys and makeup and clothes. The closest I got to a science experiment was testing the optimum amount of AquaNet hairspray to use. Too much and my sky-high bangs would fall flat under the weight. Too little and the same result.

The fact that these middle schoolers who took part in the Broadcom competition, both male and female, are already working on changing the world? Is truly inspiring.

While men continue to dominate the STEM workforce in the US, with only 24% of STEM jobs being held by women in 2015, the results of this competition prove that a shift is coming. As the underrepresentation of women in STEM jobs decreases, here’s hoping that their pay increases. It is believed that women are still paid 20% less than their male counterparts. While there are obviously still changes that need to be made to reach gender parity in STEM fields, it is encouraging to see young girls blazing a trail to reaching these goals in the not so distant future.

These young women are not only intelligent and deserving of their wins, but they are also breaking down stereotypes and crushing social norms. They are pushing the boundaries in fields that have predominantly been filled by men. And we are here for it.