FORT MYERS, Fla. (Oct. 20, 2016) – The Women’s Legacy Fund of Southwest Florida, a fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, recently granted $20,000 to Florida Gulf Coast University’s Whitaker Center for STEM Education.

The Girls in Engineering, Math and Science (GEMS) program will use the funding to mentor and inspire female FGCU students and middle school girls in Southwest Florida to pursue STEM careers by providing hands-on, inquiry-driven STEM activities via expertise at Whitaker Center for STEM Education at FGCU. The program’s approach involves multiple layers of mentoring including Whitaker Center mentoring during the activity development, FGCU female faculty mentoring of FGCU female STEM majors, and FGCU STEM majors mentoring middle school students. Four Saturday events are planned to reach a total of 400 middle school girls, 84 FGCU STEM majors and 24 middle school teacher participants.

“Despite significant advances in closing the gender gap in the workforce, women still remain

underrepresented in many fields in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), said Dr. Laura Frost, Ph.D. of the Whitaker Center for STEM Education at FGCU. “Minority women are severely underrepresented in STEM majors and careers. Boys and girls take the same science

courses in elementary, middle and high school, but fewer women pursue STEM majors in college.

Frost said studies suggest that a combination of factors contributes to this underrepresentation including negative stereotypes of females’s abilities in science and math, and lower self-assessment of their science and math skills relative to males.

“Contributors to the Women’s Legacy Fund have a voice in the choice and selected the cause area of mentoring young women and girls as the 2016 grant area this year,” said Sarah Owen, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation. “This program that provides out-of-school programs and relatable mentors and role models is essential to closing the STEM career gap for all women. The WLF grants committee selected this project to help make difference right here in our own community.”

A fund of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Women’s Legacy Fund is a group of women who foster the immersion of women in philanthropy and develop the region’s next philanthropic leaders.

In just nine years of existence, the WLF has been able to provide more than $122,000 in grants to benefit people and communities in Southwest Florida. Currently, the Fund has $547,000 in endowment that will continue to help fund local issues now and in the future.

Contributors to the WLF give a minimum of $250 each year ($100 for women younger than 25). The first half of contributions is pooled for the purpose of immediate annual grants, while the second half is pooled into the WLF’s endowment fund, which provides additional grants to be made both now and in years to come. Prima Donors are local women who have contributed $10,000 or more to the WLF endowment and are committed to making an impact in their community through charitable giving. The WLF now has 41 Prima Donors.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. Last year, it partnered with individuals, families and corporations that created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation’s invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $93 million, it has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Community Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.

Based in Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation has satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit www.floridacommunity.com or call 239-274-5900.