Supporting Underrepresented STEM Students

As an elementary school student, Grace Hansen gravitated towards her school’s robotics club. Her fascination with remote-controlled and autonomous machines has continued all through her grade school years and to this day. Now, as a junior majoring in industrial and systems engineering, Hansen is the Director of Programs for the University of Minnesota Robotics student group. But this isn’t the only science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) organization where Hansen holds a leading role.

Hansen is also the president and cofounder of a nonprofit called Green Girls STEM Foundation. Along with her high school robotics team, Hansen launched the organization in 2015 to “help students fundraise for competition fees, encourage diversity, and provide support to other local robotics teams,” Hansen says. But after high school, Hansen and her fellow members saw new potential for Green Girls STEM Foundation to support women and other underrepresented groups interested in STEM.

“I knew that it can be intimidating being the only woman in the room,” says Hansen. “I watched as my female friends and classmates lost interest in science and technology due to harmful stereotypes. I came to understand that this loss of interest would only be combatted when underrepresented groups were involved in STEM at an earlier age so that they would be more confident about their abilities.”

This realization pushed Hansen to change the mission of Green Girls STEM Foundation, starting with its outreach and inclusion efforts. “We created outreach programs to teach students with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and foster children about STEM using affordable activities made from household items,” says Hansen. Then, during the pandemic, Hansen and her nonprofit members produced a series of educational videos with activities young students could try at home. “We made episodes that focused on boats and buoyancy; Newton’s laws and marble roller coasters; and renewable sources of energy,” says Hansen.

But perhaps most impressive has been the scholarship support from Green Girls STEM Foundation. Over the past four years, the nonprofit has awarded $10,000 in scholarships and grants to underprivileged students and robotics teams. “In five years, I would like to distribute ten $1,000 scholarships a year to students seeking undergraduate degrees in STEM,” says Hansen. “We need people from different backgrounds working together on our hardest engineering projects because the solutions need to serve the entire population, not just the majority.”