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Celebrating the First Cohort of Eureka! Graduates

By Leah Eby, Girls Inc. Eureka! Program Coordinator
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Five years ago, in the summer of 2015, a group of 30 or so eighth grade girls met each other for the first time. They were nervous, excited and a little awkward, but within their first week together, they had already begun developing lifelong friendships.

a group photo of Eureka! program girls from 2017

Piquing Girls’ Interest in STEM Careers

This group of girls were accepted into the first cohort of Girls Inc. Eureka!, a first-of-its-kind program in Minneapolis. Girls Inc. Eureka! is a five-year, cohort-based program for girls in 8th through 12th grade that offers year-round programming designed to bridge the gender and racial equity gaps in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

Two girls sit at a table working on a STEM project

A Whole-Girl Approach

While Eureka! is STEM-focused, our programming takes a whole-girl approach to ensure that participants are supported in other areas of their lives as well, so they can be independent and make positive decisions for their futures. With activities in sports and fitness, healthy sexuality, economic literacy, leadership and community action, Eureka! holistically supports participants to be strong, smart and bold and ready for their next steps after high school.

A Virtual Celebration for the Graduating Cohort

We launched our first Eureka! cohort in 2015 and have added a cohort each year since, which makes this our first year with all five cohorts – and our first year with graduating seniors! This cohort started Eureka! before we really knew what the full five-year program would look like. They have been part of Eureka! longer than I have, and they’ve shared their time, passions and ideas with us over these five years, helping to build the wonderful program we have today.

Zoom celebration with Eureka! graduates and YWCA staff

Last weekend, we had the honor of celebrating this original cohort’s graduation from the Eureka! program. While it wasn’t the ceremony we had planned or hoped for, the group made sure our Zoom celebration was full of warmth and love. A slideshow shared each girl’s plans for next year, their favorite quote or memory from Eureka! and their answer to the prompt “I am strong/smart/bold because…”. A baby photo guessing game got the most laughs, and former and current staff who have played a role in this cohort’s five-year experience joined to share their wishes for the graduates.

Group of four Eureka! participants at the State Fair

A Community that Listens

Three graduating seniors who had been nominated by their peers gave speeches about the impact of their experience in Eureka!. As one speaker shared:

“Being able to be in a community in which I can speak freely and express my opinions is eye-opening. I love that people not only hear what I have to say, but they also listen and consider my ideas. I think every girl should have a community like this, where she never has to be afraid to show who she really is. As a young woman growing up in a big world, I always hear people telling me to be myself, but it is incredibly difficult. With all the barriers put in front of women, especially women of color, an extra boost is needed sometimes. YWCA Minneapolis Girls Inc. is that boost for me. I want other girls to know the knowledge and respect they can gain from interacting with a community like Eureka! and just how life-changing Girls Inc. can be.”

“With all the barriers put in front of women, especially women of color, an extra boost is needed sometimes. YWCA Minneapolis Girls Inc. is that boost for me.”

a large group of students stand together and look toward the camera smilingI Will Always Have My Cohort

Another speaker shared how this program has been the place where she feels the most herself, and where she’s had the opportunity to grow her confidence.

“My freshman year of high school, I struggled immensely with extreme social anxiety, insecurities and depression. It was super tough moving from a school where I knew everyone, to a school where I’d have to completely redefine myself and my identity. Hell, I didn’t even know who I was! What I did know, though, was that twice a month, afterschool and into the evening, I met with the same cohort of 20 teenagers who knew exactly what I was going through; I could openly discuss the struggles I had felt. We compared and contrasted the times at our high schools, and laughed at funny stories we shared throughout. It’s been a process. My confidence has wavered over the past four years, but knowing that the support I have is consistent and that no matter what, I will always have my cohort, encourages me to be bold.”

“My confidence has wavered over the past four years, but knowing that the support I have is consistent and that no matter what, I will always have my cohort, encourages me to be bold.”

Two Eureka! participants stand together with papers in their hands at an intern job fair

Watching Them Grow into Inspiring Young Women

As the ceremony wrapped up, girls shared parting thoughts, expressing their gratitude to each other for being a constant in their lives and for supporting them to become the person they are today. Those of us at YWCA Minneapolis Girls Inc. have had the privilege and honor to watch this group grow from awkward pre-teens to inspiring young women. They will be the first to tell you that they were our “guinea pigs” and “trailblazers,” and we can’t wait to see what other firsts they accomplish. Please join us in celebrating these incredible graduates, who exemplify every day what it means to be strong, smart and bold.

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