Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!

By Erin Coller

This spring, 40 middle-school girls will spend an evening at a science overnight event learning from scientists and participating in hands-on workshops at the Living Coast Discovery Center.  This event is part of The Fleet Science Center’s BE WiSE (Better Education for Women in Science and Engineering) program, which engages young women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning experiences in collaboration with the region’s research, industry and academic institutions.

The BE WiSE program hosts overnight events for girls from all over San Diego each year, during which the girls attend three different workshops. In past events, the students have learned about topics such how bats locate objects and fly in the dark with echo location/sound. In this type of exercise, the girls are given the opportunity to use the same echo location equipment that scientists use to locate the bats while studying them. Additionally, at BE WiSE science overnight events, the participants have been able to see the embryonic development of a bird and learn how scientists study birds and their development. The girls learn how scientists use necropsy at the zoo to help study diseases that are harmful to animals and ways to protect the animals.

Photo courtesy of Fleet Science Center
Photo courtesy of Fleet Science Center

Through these events, the young female students can engage in hands-on experiences to ultimately help shape the course of their future education and career paths. They are able tour a state-of-the-art science facility, meet scientists in a variety of science fields, hear about current studies that are being conducted and ask questions about their work and how and why they chose the field they did. This all culminates in workshops created by the scientists to enable the girls to experience a small taste of what it is like to be in that field.

Community partners like San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) are key to ensuring girls throughout San Diego have access to the BE WiSE program and learning opportunities to help outline a clear path toward STEM careers. “The SDG&E partnership is invaluable for the BE WiSE program,” said Deanna Ratnikova, community alliances program director for the Fleet Science Center. “From helping our advisory board develop a strategic growth plan to offering summer workshops for our middle and high school girls, the SDG&E collaboration helps our region’s young women stimulate their interest in STEM.”

BE WiSE hosts more than 20 events each year for members in grades 8-12. Women scientists conduct workshops with BE WiSE girls investigating science phenomena and discussing opportunities in the fields of math, science and engineering. In addition to the middle school science overnights, events are also hosted by BE WiSE members for high school students to encourage their selection of more courses in science and math, and exposes these girls to professional women scientists who share their knowledge and passion, and experiences with science and engineering careers. More information on the annual BE WiSE activities is available at

A unique element of the BE WiSE program is the sustained contact with the girls who enter the program in middle school all the way through college. Many BE WiSE alumnae stay in or return to San Diego and contribute to the program as advisory board members, volunteers, and event chaperones. This model of sustained contact helps women stay interested and involved in the sciences.

Girls must apply for BE WiSE in grades seven and eightThe application period for 2017 is now open through February. Students must submit an application with a teacher recommendation and an essay to be considered for the program. Once accepted, they will attend a science overnight as their first activity, then will continue to be invited to various science workshops throughout high school and into college.

Photo courtesy of Fleet Science  Center
Photo courtesy of Fleet Science Center

Upon acceptance into BE WiSE, girls attend an inaugural science overnight to introduce them to science and the BE WiSE Program. Each overnight group is carefully assembled from different schools to encourage group bonding during the overnight. BE WiSE overnights can be located in any safe, sheltered location where science demonstrations and activities can take place, especially where women in science work every day that enables behind-the-scenes tours and discussions of career information.

The BE WiSE program one of over a hundred partners of the San Diego STEM Ecosystem.  The San Diego STEM Ecosystem creates opportunities for rich and effective lifelong STEM experiences, in and out-of-school for all learners throughout our region. To learn more and join the STEM Ecosystem, click here.

How to get involved:

  • STEM professionals interested in hosting a workshop or overnight event for the BE WiSE girls are invited to email
  • Teachers are welcome to help promote the BE WISE program to girls in San Diego County who are particularly interested in the sciences. More information is available at org/be-wise.
  • Donations to the BE WISE program can be made at org/support/ways-to-give.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.