It’s a Girls’ Galaxy

A fully immersive educational center in Israel’s Eshkol Region is empowering the next generation of female changemakers to reach for the stars – with a little help from NASA and JNF-USA.

 Reporting live from the GrooveTech’s professional-grade news studio (photo credit: JNF-USA)
Reporting live from the GrooveTech’s professional-grade news studio
(photo credit: JNF-USA)

The participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) occupations has continued to lag, with men representing 73% of all STEM workers. Aspiring tech-focused women have often found it difficult to find positive female role models and mentors in STEM or STEAM (STEAM includes the Arts) fields around the world. In Israel, this is especially true for regions far from large cities.

In describing these challenges, STEAM Regional Director for Israel’s Eshkol region, Maydan Peleg, explains that “in Israel, as with the whole world… the problem is the number of women who take up leadership roles in STEAM industries.

“We have girls learning math, science, and engineering. But in a career path… when you look at those in ‘high places’… you find only a tiny group of women present. It should be 50/50 like the population… but it’s not. We’re talking less than 10% in some places – which doesn’t make sense. It’s something that the whole Western world thinks about and talks about how to change… how to get more female academic students into engineering. So, for me, this is my focus in life.”

However, Peleg remains optimistic about the future. “The good news is that with every new generation comes new opportunities for a brighter, more inclusive future – and we are creating that future today. In fact, we have started an incredible revolution in the Gaza Envelope region of Eshkol, far from the hi-tech capitals of Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Haifa. And we can thank Jewish National Fund-USA for giving us the momentum to succeed through their philanthropic investments.”

An experience like no other in the GrooveTech’s planetarium (Credit: JNF-USA)An experience like no other in the GrooveTech’s planetarium (Credit: JNF-USA)

Peleg has been running the “SiS-STEAM Sisters” program for two years now, diligently working to show young women and girls that they are as relevant to STEAM industries as anyone else – and maybe even more so. At the heart of the STEAM Sisters program is Jewish National Fund-USA’s game-changing GrooveTech Center, dedicated in honor of Betsy Fischer (NJ), situated in the Eshkol region.

Think flight simulators, virtual reality zones, a pro-grade TV news studio, planetarium, vertical garden, and a 3D printer ‘maker space,’ just to name a few of the amenities housed within the Center. The state-of-the-art initiative has created a new community and heartland for regional tech development that empowers both children and adults in Israel’s South and beyond.

The program inspires young girls in 6th grade to start thinking about careers in tech. And thanks to the growing network that Peleg has created – the program provides face-to-face exposure with some of the world’s top female professionals – leaders who inspire young women to consider an otherwise rarely explored path. 

“When I started on this road, I saw that I didn’t have many women friends doing this kind of work… so I started to question where the tipping point is,” said Peleg. “Where is the point where girls say, ‘this isn’t for me.’ To combat that, we started the SiS program in the Jewish National Fund-USA GrooveTech Center. 

“GrooveTech empowers young women on so many levels,” said Jewish National Fund-USA’s Gaza Envelope Task Force Chair, Betsy Fischer. “With such a wide variety of experiences inside its walls – from the state-of-the-art kitchen and the planetarium to the maker space, the growing labs, the gaming and computer rooms – women realize that they can shoot for the stars in everything they do. GrooveTech was designed in a way that nurtures creativity, self-confidence, independence, and self-discovery, where skill sets are developed for jobs that may not even exist yet. I am very proud to say that there is no other place like GrooveTech in the world.”

Jewish National Fund-USA partner (donor), Jessica Levinson from Westchester, NY, added, “giving any child the opportunity to learn more about science and space is a win-win. Learning that young girls are being given this special attention through the support of Jewish National Fund-USA makes me feel great as a supporter of The GrooveTech Center.” 

Together with Levinson, a group of incredible women and mothers contributed to this program to see these young ladies excel. “Making sure girls in Israel’s periphery have the same advantages as those in the center of the country is just so important,” shared Levinson.

The program takes 12-year-old girls – the age for Bat Mitzvah – to meet high-ranking women working in STEAM industries. The aspiring ‘techpreneurs’ meet with successful female engineers, astronauts, CEOs, and high-achieving entrepreneurs. They meet them not only to learn about their professions but also to understand how they got there. It’s about the roads they took – their childhoods, high schools, travels, universities – and how they found their own mentors. And in the end, they leave with the conclusion that ‘okay, if she can do it, I can do it.’”

The SiS group, from Jewish National Fund-USA’s GrooveTech Center, recently headed to Rakia, to the control center for the Israeli mission that speaks directly with NASA and the International Space Station (ISS) – and which was heavily involved in sending Israel’s second-ever astronaut, Eytan Stibbe, to the ISS. While there, the lead coordinator for the mission in Houston, Texas, Melody Korman, spoke to the girls via zoom. Interestingly, Korman is an Eshkol native.

SiS alumna Rotem Katry (age 13) said that “throughout the 12 sessions, we met smart, talented, incredible women. We even met an astronaut, a woman! It was an incredible opportunity for me to see how many options I – and other girls– have.” 

Katry explained that “the stigma isn’t right… we can do anything, and we’re worthy. I would highly recommend to any girl to come and do this program. This changes everything, and we finally have it right here in Eshkol. This wasn’t possible for us before the creation of our GrooveTech Center and before Jewish National Fund-USA got involved.”

“We got everything we needed thanks to Jewish National Fund-USA,” Peleg said. “Their collaboration was something I never experienced. Not only the funding but the caring, as well. They care and want to know what we need and how they can help make it better, which is why it’s so successful.” 

This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA.