by Daniel Obst, President & CEO of AFS Intercultural Programs

For more than 70 years AFS Intercultural Programs has encouraged young women everywhere to explore the world through international study abroad programs—even when the educational ambitions of women were not a priority in many countries.

Today, my colleagues and I honor the contributions and achievements of AFS alumnae in STEM on the U.N. International Women’s Day with the launch of a new scholarship STEM exchange program to encourage girls and boys to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A program like this is urgently needed. According to the 2018 Global Education Monitoring Report Gender Review, young women lag behind men in completing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. In some countries, women make up less than one-quarter of all STEM degrees.

AFS has helped many young STEM hopefuls take their first steps to reach their dreams and make a difference as active global citizens. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti was introduced to the frontiers of the galaxy at Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama during her AFS exchange to the United States. Her space broadcasts during her 199 days orbiting Earth sparked the interstellar imaginations of girls and boys around the world. And we are pleased to announce that Ghanaian changemaker and AFSer Regina Agyare Honu was recently named as one of the BBC 100 Women for empowering women and girls with technology skills through her two groundbreaking initiatives, Soronko Academy and Tech for Girls.

Inspired by accomplished AFSers like these, AFS has partnered with BP to launch the BP Global STEM Academies, a four-week scholarship program to be held in Brazil, Egypt and USA. This new international summer exchange program will enrich the STEM and intercultural skills of 300 high school students, representing a spectrum of cultural, economic and other differences.

The goal of the BP Global STEM Academies is to help these enterprising students learn how to effectively communicate, collaborate and lead in diverse settings with diverse teams. Like many global leaders in STEM and other professions, we also believe that gender equality and a diversity of ideas, perspectives and skills is a driving force for real innovation and cutting-edge breakthroughs.

The STEM Academies are open to talented young women and men from Brazil, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Mexico, South Africa, and USA. The deadline to apply for the 2018 program is 31 March.