Girls in the Lehigh Valley are learning just how fun and challenging it can be to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

More importantly, they’re finding out that they have the ability to do those jobs and be successful at them, just as any boy would be.

That’s the message of the popular TechGYRLS program that the Bethlehem YWCA has been offering in Bethlehem Area schools for

Girls from one Bethlehem elementary school hold certificates they received for completing a TechGYRLS robotics program.

more than a decade. It’s a program we’re supporting with a $5,000 grant through Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.

With the help of fun and engaging projects, like developing robots, the students are getting a valuable hands-on introduction to the type of skills that can lead them to rewarding jobs down the road. During the spring semester, they built robots using Lego Mindstorms kits.

“We’re proud to deliver TechGYRLS in Bethlehem schools to encourage girls to pursue STEM interests in a friendly, supportive after-school setting,” said Jen Wanisko, who is director of the YWCA’s Empowerment Center.

This year, the program served 75 girls at six Bethlehem area elementary schools: Calypso, Donegan, Fountain Hill, Marvine, Thomas Jefferson and William Penn. Many are from low- to moderate-income families.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to support a program like this,” said Carol Obando-Derstine, PPL’s regional affairs director. “Getting today’s youth excited about STEM fields is vital if we want a skilled and productive workforce in the future.”

The goal of the program is to break down gender barriers in technology-related fields. Girls in the program get hands-on experience in graphic arts, web design, animation and robotics, as well as mentoring from women already in those fields.

“We’re really trying to encourage an interest in these fields and giving them positive female role models,” Wanisko said. “We’re telling them they have to be determined and persistent.”