Leela Ayyar (left) wrote "Elara, STEM Girl" when her younger sister, Meera (right) sought her guidance after she encountered challenges in the STEM fields.
Photo courtesy of Lillian King
“My book is about a young girl named Elara who enjoys dolls, dress up, and sports. But what she really loves is all things STEM, Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics." — Leela Ayyar, Senior, Oakton High School
Leela Ayyar is a 17-year-old student at Oakton High School with a strong passion for science, technology, engineering, and math, otherwise known as STEM. Ayyar is also the author of “Elara, STEM Girl,” her unpublished book for 4-8-year-olds that encourages girls to pursue studies and activities in the STEM fields. Through Ayyar’s text and the vibrant, colorful illustrations by Lauera Vanderheart, children can identify with the book's characters and their challenges. The 32-page illustrated book is based on Ayyar’s experiences, those of her younger sister, Meera, and feedback from focus groups conducted at the Fairfax County Public Schools STEM Camp and Tech Adventure Camp, which took place at Lake Braddock Secondary School this summer.
On Wednesday, Sept. 13, a Kickstarter campaign launched to support the publication of Ayyar's book. Kickstarter is a global crowdfunding platform. Ayyar must raise $4,500 or more in pledges by Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 10 p.m. EDT. It is an all or nothing campaign. If the total amount is not raised by that date and time, no funding is provided and the Kickstarter campaign fails.
According to the company's website, Kickstarter’s mission is to "...help bring creative projects to life." People back a project by pledging money. Pledges must occur within a specified period, and final pledged dollars must equal or exceed the project's stated goal.
AS OF SEPT. 13, 41 backers, including nine individuals from Herndon and four from Reston pledged a total of $3,489 toward Ayyar's $4,500 goal.
Susan Bingham, Chemistry Teacher, Science Department Chair at Oakton High School wrote a recommendation for Ayyar: "Leela has taken her capstone project to a higher level and found a way to share her passion for the STEM fields with children. It is vitally important to engage and inspire children, but especially girls, in STEM education. We must all work to end stereotypes and cultural biases that currently prevent girls from equally participating in STEM fields because we need the future contributions of all our children to help us overcome the many challenges we face."
In Ayyar’s campaign, she explained that her book, “Elara, STEM Girl" not only encourages young girls to pursue and take an interest in STEM but also helps them from getting discouraged. “My book is about a young girl named Elara who enjoys dolls, dress up, and sports. But what she really loves is all things STEM, Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," Ayyar said. "Young girls are naturally interested in STEM, but their interest usually fades as they grow older."
Through her character, Elara, Ayyar offers readers tools to address issues such as being in the minority, math anxiety, stereotypes, and fear of failure while at the same time providing ways to build resiliency and overcome challenges when they express an interest or take part in STEM activities. By reaching out to young girls, Ayyar hopes to break the STEM ceiling for girls and close the gender gap. Ayyar cited in her Kickstarter campaign that only 24 percent of women are in STEM careers, yet 80 percent of the fastest growing careers are in the STEM fields.
IF AYYAR EXCEEDS the $4,500 goal, she seeks to create a series of Elara books and a website rich with STEM activities. "I have so many wonderful ideas on how to expand Elara’s adventures to continue to inspire young girls. Such as ‘Elara and the Stars’ where Elara explores astronomy. Or ‘Elara and the Notions of Potions,’ where she discovers just how fun chemistry can be. I’d also love for her to explore aeronautical engineering and robotics.”
Shannen Prindle is a friend of Ayyar's at Oakton High School. She was the videographer for the Kickstarter campaign film. Prindle said, "Now more than ever we need to be encouraging young girls to pursue their interests in STEM. This book challenges the same stereotypes that I, and many other females, had to overcome to realize my true passion for science."
If you are interested in supporting Ayyar's senior year capstone project, visit “Elara, STEM Girl” on Kickstarter.