“Learning this in high school is great,” Esty said. “They are really giving you the tools to find things out. Take those skills and get a job with that. It gives you a lot of power.”
STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math and aims to teach girls technology skills they can use in the real world, said founder Jason Teal. STEAM is part of the non-profit’s Change the Play program for at-risk and gifted youth. The goal is to show students careers in sports, music, and entertainment that don’t require being on stage or the playing field, including broadcasters, music producers and engineers, and entertainment lawyers.
“STEAM is a pilot program for Change the Play and we welcome your feedback,” Teal told the group.
Teal offered the program through the Meriden Public Schools and expected about a half-dozen girls to sign up. About 30 students enrolled.
Esty is an advocate for science, math and technology programs in her district and nationwide. She founded an app development contest that has helped high school students discover new technology uses. One group of students created a cell phone app that lets people know when they’ve missed the bus. The app is now being used in commuter applications.
STEAM students work on finding and developing video and written content to help them generate an audience. The students focused on beauty and have created a blog offering tips and other useful information to their fellow students.
“I really do enjoy fashion,” said Madison Quendo, a Maloney junior. “We need to inspire girls to be their best.”
Esty shared her story about being a lawyer, going from PTA mom to a member of Congress and the steps along the way. She told them about making tough choices, and how her experience voting against the death penalty on religious reasons cost her a second term in the state General Assembly, but allowed her the opportunity to run for Congress.
“You may be faced with a situation where you have to decide what matters most,” Esty said. “If I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be in Congress.”
She also told the girls, women still have a long way to go. The House of Representatives is made up of only 18 percent women, less than Afghanistan. Women are still fighting for the same respect men get in government, and women should learn to pick their battles wisely. She said despite what is shown on television, there is still work being done in Congress.
“Talk less, smile more, listen more, share credit,” Esty said. “Politics is not dirty. To cure what is wrong with democracy is more democracy. If that’s the world I want to live in, I have to model that too.”
Quendo found that phrase memorable, but said although she finds politics fascinating, “it’s not for me.”
Julia Rivera, 16, joined STEAM because she likes belonging to something just for girls. Esty’s speech about learning new things and Rivera’s own habit of backing down from possible failure resonated with her.