‘Don’t be scared to go down the path that’s least traveled’: EXCITE Shadow Days empower high school girls to pursue STEM

Marrissa Raynesford, senior in Chemistry, Chloe Wallace, environmental science advisor, and Raynesford's high school shadow held an academic advising appointment during the EXCITE Shadow Day on Sep. 13. Raynesford is the president of the KAWSE Ambassadors Student Organization. (Courtesy photo by Kate Williamson)

Editor’s note: We changed the photo’s credit from “Photo courtesy of Stephanie Rose” to “Courtesy photo by Kate Williamson.” Rose gave us to photo but reached out to us and asked us to change the credit.

On Thursday, Kansas State student ambassadors hosted high school girls interested in studying science, technology, engineering and math, allowing them to experience a day in the life of a woman studying STEM. The ambassadors walked the girls through the school day, showing them everything from classes and advisor meetings to the best latte on the Radina’s menu.

The K-State Office for Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering held the event.

“Our goal is to enrich the lives of women and girls in and interested in STEM, including underrepresented students as well,” Stephanie Rose, program coordinator for KAWSE, said. “Essentially, we plan programming for pre-college age students all the way through to career advancement.”

The shadow days are part of the exploring science, technology, and engineering program at KAWSE, which focuses on encouraging high school-age girls to pursue their interests in STEM.

“One of the goals of the shadow days, other than them getting to experience life as a college student, is to see what it’s actually like to be a woman in STEM,” Rose said. “The ambassadors are chaperones, but they are role models as well. It helps students to expand their network, to see that there are women in their field and that it’s possible for them too.”

Rose said over 60 women applied to be ambassadors this semester, which is more than previous semesters.

“We have a lot of high school students who are interested in different STEM majors, so we try to get undergrads from all different colleges,” Rose said. 

Danielle Shamir, sophomore in architecture, said this was her fourth time as an ambassador.

“Typically, either one or two high schoolers … will come with me to class and other parts of the day; we’ll eat lunch with them, and I’ll show them around the building or the library as well,” Shamir said. “I usually have to work on something like an architecture studio; last time, we made some study models together. It’s good for them to get the experience.”

Shamir emphasized that shadow days are important for high school students to experience because not all high schools offer classes in specific STEM fields. 

“Architecture is a very unique program, especially compared to other majors,” Shamir said. “It’s not like the classic structure where you go to class, get homework and take a test. It’s very collaborative and time-intensive.”

Shamir said she always asks high school students about their classes and opens the conversation to how their current experiences will translate into college.

It’s not just about connecting with women in STEM, Rose said, but to see what K-State is and the opportunities here for them.

“I took this job because I saw the opportunity to coordinate programs like this for women and girls in STEM,” Rose said. “The longer I’ve been here, the more I realize that women and girls need this, especially middle school and high school girls.”

Rose said she sees a lot of young girls walking a tightrope, trying to be perfect and never make any mistakes.

“It’s when those mistakes happen that you learn the most,” Rose said. “Don’t be scared to go down the path that’s least traveled, and don’t be afraid to fail. Lean on the women and girls around you.”

KAWSE hosts multiple shadow days each semester and is $45 for high school girls to attend. The price includes the shadowing opportunity, free lunch at the union, a drawstring bag, KAWSE swag, and informational packets on STEM at K-State.

The Nov. 9 Shadow Day was the last of four in the Fall 2023 semester, but information for future events can be found on the KAWSE website.