Tanya Moreno, Vice President of Genetics Research and Development at Millennium Health, teaches Del Dios 6th Grader Jazmin about DNA. They’ve met twice this year and Soria said she plans to continue in the program. Courtesy photo
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Mentorship program aims to excite young girls about STEM

ESCONDIDO—Del Dios Academy of Arts and Sciences 6th grader Jazmin likes to bake and has even considered pursuing it as a career.

While she’s got plenty of time to decide, she said she’s now leaning more towards computer engineering.

“I was thinking of baking before computer engineering but I can do that at home any time I want,” Jazmin said.

She is part of a Sister-to-Sister program aimed at exposing under-privileged girls to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County partnered with health solutions company Millennium Health to offer one on one mentoring to girls at Del Dios Academy in an effort to expose them to STEM concepts and provide mentorship to at-risk students.

“Many of our students have been brought up with the influence of gang life as well as being the product of low socio economic status,” said Del Dios Social Worker Kristen Clayton.

The goal of the program, called Beyond School Walls STEM, is to lead students away from gang life and influence them towards high-paying STEM jobs.

“We’re in a hotbed of biotech and (bio communications). Why not prepare the children who live here to also work here in the future? “ President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego Deborah Condon said.

While the program aims to expose young teens to STEM, it also serves to reduce the likelihood of gang involvement and drug use.

According to a National Gang Intelligence Center report released in 2012, juvenile prostitution is the second most profitable gang activity in San Diego, behind drug dealing.

Condon stressed the importance of one on one mentoring in building girls’ self-esteem.

“The longer they’re here, the stronger the outcome,” she said of the students in the Beyond School Walls STEM program.

Twice a month, 15 girls are bussed from Del Dios to Millennium Health in Rancho Bernardo to meet with their mentors and learn more about different STEM concepts.

Clayton said the students were hand chosen because of the potential they show. They’re neither the highest nor the lowest performing students.

Girls are matched with “Big Sisters,” working professionals in all fields at Millennium Health, including science, communications and administration.

They meet for a 30-minute STEM activity and then branch off with their individual mentor for an hour.

The program runs the entire school year and students can return each year until they finish the 8th grade at Del Dios.

The program is part of a national Big Brothers Big Sisters campaign to pair children with mentors.

According to a study published by Public/Private Ventures in 1996, students with mentors were 46 percent less likely to begin using illegal drugs, nearly a third less likely to use alcohol and 52 percent less likely to skip class, compared to students not in the program.

On April 16, the students were having their second meeting with their “bigs,” or mentors.

Social Worker Clayton said the girls are already extremely excited about the program.

“I cannot tell you how excited they are. The day after meeting their bigs, they flooded into my office to tell me all about it,” Clayton said.

The mentors are just as excited.

Tanya Moreno, Vice President of Genetics Research and Development, said she looks forward to mentoring 6th grader Jazmin.

“I love that she’s interested in science, and engineering and technology and that she wants to talk about these things,” Moreno said. “It’s fun to get to share the experience.”

After the interview, Moreno was taking Jazmin in to get a closer look at DNA and go through some DNA isolation experiments.

“I think I’m most interested in the DNA,” Jazmin said.