Project GRAD Knoxville ‘STEMulating’ young minds thanks to grant from Women’s Fund of East Tennessee

Positively Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Strong women, strong futures.

That’s the message behind the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee; an organization working to help knock down barriers for low-income women and girls. One of the groups it’s helping is Project GRAD, with a program to expose more girls to science, technology, engineering and math.

It’s a hands-on experience for Project GRAD students in third through fifth grade. They learn about robotics, work with interactive mapping, and get an up-close lesson in CPR.

It’s all part of Project GRAD’s Urban Brilliance program made possible by a grant from the Women’s Fund of East Tennessee.

The most recent program was in March, right before the pandemic hit. Local businesses and organizations like Denso, Oak Ridge National Labs, and the University of Tennessee are just some that take part in the program held at the Change Center every year to help change lives and attitudes about post-secondary education.

“We’re speaking light to them and we’re speaking hope, and we’re providing opportunities but everybody in their life is not talking that to them,” Project GRAD’s Executive Director Ronni Chandler says. “The young people that we support are brilliant. They’re navigating a lot of challenges in their life but they are every bit as capable.”

2020 Project GRAD Scholar Callie Anderson is a shining example of that brilliance.

A hardworking student, member of the volleyball team and cheerleading squad at Fulton High School last year, Anderson was chosen to mentor girls in the health sciences portion of the Urban Brilliance program.

It was an empowering lesson for her as well.

“It kind of gave me an overview of what it would be like if I was a teacher for second graders or third graders,” she told us. “It kinds of gives them, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ It gives them hope and a way out.”

Callie, now a freshman at Pellissippi State Community College, is working hard on her major in secondary education with a goal to finish her degree at the University of Tennessee.

“I’m in statistics right now and it’s going pretty good,” she said with a smile. “I plan on becoming a teacher and then working my way up to be a principal or superintendent.”

Good luck to Callie and to the girls following in her footsteps.

The PEW Research Center says jobs in STEM have grown 79% since 1990. The average income for non-STEM jobs in our country is $19.30 an hour. The average income for STEM jobs is $38.85 an hour.

To learn more about Project Grad Knoxville visit

The Women’s Fund of East Tennessee is hosting its annual fundraising luncheon online this year. To RSVP or make a donation, visit


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