Catalysts for Change​​​​​​​​​

Gaining Momentum for Women in STEM Fields

The Teaching Center, Department of Chemistry, and Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Catalysts for Change is an outreach program for St. Louis high-school girls stemming from Washington University’s undergraduate Women in Science Program, which is a four-year mentoring program for young women in the STEM disciplines started by Gina Frey (Florence E. Moog Professor of STEM Education and Teaching Center Executive Director) and Barbara Baumgartner (Senior Lecturer and Associate Director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program).  

As part of the Women In Science program, undergraduate women, supported by graduate women in the sciences,  help organize and lead Catalysts for Change, a two-day STEM workshop for high-school girls across the St. Louis area.

The Catalysts for Change workshops happen on two Saturdays in the spring semester and draw a group of approximately 60 9th-grade girls who are interested in exploring the STEM disciplines. With the understanding that encouragement is a vital element in education and that learning often happens best through leading, mentoring is central to the Catalysts for Change Program. The program employs a three-tiered mentoring structure that gives graduate students the chance to create lab lessons and undergraduate women the chance to learn from female graduate students, while helping younger girls grow in confidence in the STEM fields.

The Catalysts for Change program, which is directed by Gina Frey, Barbara Baumgartner, and female graduate students in the Department of Chemistry, offers many gains for each level of students involved:

Washington University graduate students design fun science activities, including engineering an egg-launch, dissecting a starfish, and making liquid nitrogen ice-cream.

Washington University undergraduate students:

  • Serve as mentors for high-school students
  • Act as team leaders to guide the students through fun experiments
  • Network with diverse female STEM professionals working in various careers ranging from civil engineering to pharmaceuticals to zoo medicine

St. Louis-area high-school students:

  • Learn about principles in materials science, the process of photosynthesis, and chemical properties and reactions. 
  • Connect with college students who show them where they could be in their studies in a few years 
  • Recognize that they will need to develop a good foundation in the fundamentals of various STEM disciplines for more specialized study in the future​
  • Explore diverse STEM careers by meeting with successful local women in STEM fields

Catalysts for Change is a collaboration between the Women in Science Program, the Department of Chemistry, the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, and The Teaching Center. The program’s first year (2011) was supported by a Campus Action Grant from the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Since 2012, the program has been funded by the Department of Chemistry, The Teaching Center, and a grant from the Women’s Society of Washington University.

Read more about Catalysts for Change in our CNN "Girls in STEM" iReport​: "Catalysts for Change: Science Explorations for St. Louis-Area 9th-Grade Girls."