Encouraging Girls in STEM: The Ella Project

If you follow us on Facebook, you might have noticed that we shared a post back in October about the Ella Project. I was so pleased to make the aquaintence of Anthony Onesto, co-founder and creator of the Ella Project, and honored to be profiled as one of their Stories of women who work in STEM fields. This organization is doing great things, and so I decided to use this week’s blog to tell you about it in more detail!

I found out about the Ella Project quite by accident one day back in September while doing research online. The fact that the organization uses comic books to reach school-age girls immediately caught my eye. One of the most meaningful and downright fun projects I have ever worked on was a graphic novel, entitled Wild Weather, which was part of a series of graphic novels intended to interest middle-school aged students in science. I was the consultant meteorologist who fact-checked the book and gave feedback to the authors on how best to explain certain meteorology topics to the readers. So, when I learned that the Ella Project developed (and continues to grow) a comic book series to encourage young girls and get them excited about STEM careers, I reached out right away to learn more.

The first thing I found on the website was the ‘Stories‘ page. I could have spent all afternoon reading the interviews of the women who are profiled. One thing which jumped out at me immediately is that the women represent many different ages, career stages, backgrounds, ethnicities, and fields of expertise. I could envision myself as a young girl, reading the bios and interviews, and identifying with many of the women for different reasons. What young girl wouldn’t feel inspired when reading about the huge variety of women who love what they do?

Next, I spent some time looking at the comic books themselves. Each of the three editions of the comic book featured one of the real-life women who were profiled as part of the story. The hero, Ella, is described as ‘relentlessly curious, technologically adept, and a dedicated problem-solver’. She is persistent, despite being ‘just a kid’, and solves exciting capers using her skills. The profiled women often feature in the stories as an encouraging mentor figure who helps Ella ‘keep up the good fight’, and use her knowledge and skills to solve the problem. The stories are very funny, interesting, well written and illustrated, and filled with positive messages and downright interesting science and technology topics. Many kids, not just girls, would enjoy reading these comic books. As the mom of a daughter and a son, I was so excited to find these positive messages about women working in STEM fields delivered in a format which they would both find interesting.

My conversation with Anthony Onesto confirmed everything which I had seen on the website: that this organization is one which really understands that in order to reach kids, you have to meet them where they are at and expose them to new ideas in a way which they will connect with. Anthony founded the Ella Project, named after one of his children, when he realized that at his place of employment, he could count on one hand the number of women who worked in science and technology disciplines within his company. Inspired by his own children (2 girls and a boy) and his own childhood love of comic books, he came up with the idea for the Ella Project on his train commute into New York City. The overarching goal was to create a comic book heroine who would first and foremost entertain, but also normalize the idea of an intelligent girl who enjoys and uses science and technology to solve problems. His company sponsored one edition of the comic book, and the Ella Project has since partnered with Deloitte and produced two more editions, with many more in the works.

Anthony’s daughter, Nicolette Onesto, a highschool junior, is busy setting an example for girls herself. She saw the value and potential impact that the Ella Project could have on generations of young girls to come, and works alongside her dad as an advisor to the project. Her resume is impressive and includes volunteer work, honors classes, sports achievements and community involvement. Her vision, hard work and dedication are inspirational and embody the spirit of the Ella Project.

Anthony, Nicolette, and the Ella Project have big ideas and ambitions for the future, all with the goal of exposing both boys and girls to strong women who have successful careers in STEM fields via funny, interesting stories told in comic book format. As a female entrepreneur in a STEM field, I am so excited to have connected with Anthony and the Ella Project, and look forward to seeing them make an impact on future generations of women and scientists.

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