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High School Girls Learn Skills in KEYs Program

By Susan Buchman
Staff REPORTER

Twenty-one girls arrived on campus last week to participate in the Keys to Empowering Youth program, which brings eleven-to-thirteen-year-old girls together with college students for one to three days to participate in workshops on empowerment, awareness, and problem-solving.

Through participation in hands-on activities and interaction with mentors, the girls are exposed to non-traditional career paths. The program is organized by the Public Service Center and was coordinated by Priya M. Rajendran '01.

"I absolutely loved working on the Keys to Empowering Youth Program," Rajendran said. "The 21 girls were awesome to work with. They were enthusiastic about a wide variety of activities."

KEYs began in 1993 when a group of graduate and undergraduate students, staff, and faculty at MIT decided to help address the problems within the Boston-area community. The motivation behind KEYs is to give encouragement to adolescent girls at a critical stage in their personal development. The girls are encouraged to think about their futures and talk about the steps they may need to take to achieve their goals.

Preparation for the three-day program began in the past academic year. Girls from the Boston area spend a Saturday at MIT during the school year. The one-day program is split up into three parts: group goal discussions, team problem solving, and laboratory activities. Some of the girls returned for the three-day program last week.

The three-day program is led by mentors who are undergraduate and graduate students. The mentors facilitate discussions, lead activities, and share their personal experiences during the course of the day.

This year's three-day program began on Monday morning with an icebreaker. Girls wrote down the names of other girls who shared personal characteristics such as height, favorite comic strip, and career goal.

The first major activity was a physics game in which the girls had to build the tallest structure possible using 10 sheets of paper, two business cards, and two nametags.

On a visit to the Medical Center, the girls visited with a medical personnel and learned how to measure blood pressure. For the last activity of the day, they toured McCormick Hall.

On Tuesday, the girls started the day by seeing Paul Thomas' "Mr. Magnet" demonstration. Then Campus Police Sergeant Cheryl deJong Vossomer gave a demonstration on self-defense. Lastly, in an activity designed to mimic the 6.270 Autonomous Robot Design Competition, the girls built Lego cars and held a race with the finished products.

A visit to the Ocean Engineering Tow Tank was the first activity on Wednesday. The girls spent the afternoon writing articles about their experiences in the program, which will be published in a newsletter and sent to the participants.

The final activity was the career life game. The girls were given chips representing money and time. The girls used their chips to buy educations, families, and make other life decisions. They also had to deal with fate chips which could make them victims of car accidents or illness.

In the anonymous evaluations filled out by the girls at the end of the program, the girls expressed their enthusiasm with the experience.

"I learned so much that I couldn't write it all, but I learned that I want to do this again," one girl said.