The Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council recently awarded Boundless Brilliance, an organization that originated at Occidental College and seeks to close the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), a grant of $1,000 to create workbooks to complement their elementary school curriculum.
Audrey Shawley ’18 was in her junior year studying biochemistry at Occidental when she and fellow women in STEM learned from a study that by age 6, students of all genders are more likely to associate intelligence with boys. Within their own college classes, they noticed a related trend.
“We noticed the tendency for women and people of color in our classes to not raise our hands as much and not assert the knowledge that we know to be true,” Shawley said. “The realization that it started at age 6 was really shocking.”
According to Shawley, she and her friends gathered 30 student volunteers and created a basic model for implementing Boundless Brilliance curriculum at a different local elementary school each week. The 45-minute presentation, which is free of charge, is intended to foster both a growth mindset and scientific know-how.
“It addresses topics like leadership, teamwork, curiosity, innovation, diversity and not being afraid to make mistakes,” Shawley said. “They always include a hands-on STEM experiment that aligns with Next-Generation Science Standards, which is Los Angeles Unified School District’s STEM curriculum.”
In order to reinforce their curriculum after the presentation, they created a 64-page interactive workbook entitled “We are Brilliant!”, scheduled for release this December.
“Because we are only at each elementary school twice per year, we wanted to develop a platform for continued learning following our presentation,” Shawley said. “So I wrote the book with a phenomenal team of content creators and illustrators.”
The text includes illustrations of actual STEM leaders in Boundless Brilliance as characters in the book. Julissa Larios (sophomore) illustrated part of the book.
“As illustrators, we collaborated on visions and goals for the books,” Larios said. “I illustrated the narrators — real Occidental students and people involved in the organization. I had to accurately represent their characters so kids can hopefully see themselves in the illustrations.”
Boundless Brilliance’s executive director, Cherise Charleswell, approached the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC) for $1,000 to allow Boundless Brilliance to provide a free workbook to 125 LAUSD students. Their ask was met with unanimous support from ERNC. According to Larios, the organization’s goal is to eventually raise enough money to provide 2000 books.
“We want to inform kids that a profession in STEM, or being empowered in STEM, doesn’t need to be something to delay later on, or something that’s frightening to pursue,” Larios said. “These workbooks are so they can take these important lessons further than the classroom and further than the 45 minutes we see them.”
Kristin Shaw is the principal of LAUSD’s Dahlia Heights Elementary School, where Boundless Brilliance was introduced in 2018. Shaw said she was inspired by the club’s vision to help each student realize their own brilliance.
“The impact has been one of pure excitement,” Shaw said. “It’s so empowering to watch our students engaging in new learning in the area of science through experimentation, problem-solving and engaging in thoughtful conversations. The end of the lessons leaves them wanting more.”
According to Shaw, who has worked in education for over 30 years, STEM programs are part of LAUSD’s vision to equip students with the critical thinking skills needed to creatively connect what they learn in class with real-world problems they see.
“Our teachers at Dahlia are developing these skills in our students,” Shaw said. “Having Boundless Brilliance work alongside us only helps to empower our students to think critically, learn that there are many ways to solve problems and become ready to solve global problems.”
The organization has visions as boundless as their name suggests. According to Shawley, Boundless Brilliance student organizations have been started at two other colleges, Azusa Pacific University and Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and it is now a nonprofit organization with some paid personnel. They hope to use their nationwide contacts to expand to more universities, implement summer camps and after-school programs and instruct secondary students as well.
“Every single student would benefit from hearing, starting in kindergarten, that they are brilliant, their potential is boundless and they can succeed in STEM or literally any field that is interesting to them,” Shawley said.