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'Girls Who Game' Inspires STEM Futures

Girls Who Game is part after-school club, part learning opportunity, and all fun. Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) launched the program last spring as a pilot with three schools and about 30 members. This year it expanded to 270 students (grades 4-8) in 21 schools. “Some people didn’t have these games growing up, so this has been a good experience for me,” said Leyla Tatum, a fifth grader at The Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary. “This has really inspired me to learn about careers in STEM. I want to engineer cars!”

Mayor Linda Gorton dropped by the science building at the University of Kentucky to congratulate our students on a successful season. “This room is full of girls who are future scientists, future computer gurus, all of that,” she said. “I love that Girls Who Game is all about STEM but it’s fun and it’s gaming. I’m learning a little about Minecraft myself.”

Dell Technologies, Intel, and Microsoft created this program to engage female students by providing opportunities to develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and leadership skills while gaming. “Not only does it give students a safe place to take risks, it also really increases the awareness that girls are in these roles and careers,” said Ashley Faulkner, a district STEM learning coach. “That’s where the UK partnership and mentoring play in, so girls can see themselves in these roles in the future.” The Jan. 21 celebration featured networking with women in gaming, students’ Minecraft showcases, a brief campus tour, and awards.

“This year’s challenge was all about pursuing the perfect park,” said Faulkner, who explained that each club was to design the county’s new Cardinal Run Park North. Within the Minecraft platform, she set up a blank world with a layout of the current park. Over 12 weeks – following Department of Parks and Recreation guidelines – the students created elements that people of all ages and abilities can access, with a focus on nature and healthy lifestyles. “They designed a blueprint and worked as a team while adding their own creative touches and awesome ideas,” Faulkner said.

FCPS Winners:

The top teams will make their pitches to the LFUCG council on Feb. 9 with a 5 p.m. gallery walk for council members, park builder Brandstetter Carroll Inc., and the public. The council will recognize the teams’ efforts at the start of the 6 p.m. meeting, and then students will walk to the Lexington Public Library to display their project boards on the fourth floor. The goal is that Parks and Rec will incorporate some of their suggestions, such as pickle ball courts, solar charging stations, and community greenhouses.

This type of real-world experience helped inspire NASA’s Alora Mazarakis, who grew up in Kentucky. Joining the UK event via Zoom, she shared how her father’s work in aviation led her to NASA. “I remember always thinking stars in space were the coolest thing in the world,” she said. “I was always known as the ‘space girl.’” Now a flight communications and tracking engineer, Mazarakis oversees the antennas on the Artemis rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She encouraged our students to dream big, grow into strong and intelligent women, and follow the NASA theme – a Latin phrase that translates to “Through hardships to the stars!”

Posted Jan. 24, 2023