Cherise Charleswell: Executive Director of Boundless Brilliance

Boundless Brilliance is all about getting girls interested in STEM. Their program takes place in the classroom to show students fun experiments and teach valuable lessons. Workshops are guided by student facilitators who are successful women currently pursuing STEM careers. Cherise loves interacting with kids in the classroom and seeing their excitement grow as they learn more about STEM.

Can you tell me about the Boundless Brilliance approach to getting girls interested in STEM?


We make sure that we are as accessible and inclusive as possible, which means our process also includes boys. Feminist principles say that we can’t just talk aboout feminism with girls, boys need to be part of those conversations so the topic becomes normalized. We want girls to feel comfortable taking up space in co-ed settings and using their voices. Boundless Brilliance is intentional about our programming working in a classroom. The program happens during school hours and we bring in all our own materials. Parents don’t have to worry about paying anything extra and teachers don’t have to learn a new curriculum. The teachers let us know the best schedule so that we aren’t intrusive.


Can you walk me through a classroom program?


We try to get to each classroom we partner with a few times per year. Normally there are two workshop facilitators per classroom. Many of the students are familiar with our facilitators because we’ve gone through the grade levels with them. The facilitators talk about themselves, their studies, and their goals so that kids can have successful female role models in STEM to look up to. There’s an open dialogue so students can ask questions, get to know us, and feel comfortable. Each visit has a science experiment and lesson. Throughout the experiment, there is socio-emotional learning. We ask questions like: what do scientists look like? We want kids to talk about science in an exciting way. The lesson is something they carry with them beyond the experiment.


Your website says that “by age 6, both boys and girls associate intelligence with men”. How are you working to change that norm?


We have an early intervention mode that starts in kindergarten. A lot of STEM programs start at the high school level, and by then people already have preconceived notions about women in STEM and perceived intelligence. We hear women say all the time that they “just aren’t good at math and science”. Are they really not good at it, or did they never think it was an option for themselves? We’re showing students that girls can and should do this and provide role models to show how women can be successful in this field.


Where do you hope to take Boundless Brilliance going forward?


We’re partnering with universities and want to develop more hybrid models. Our current chapters are mostly in Southern California and we just launched a program at Arizona State University. We’re very particular about the communities we serve to ensure our impact is tangible. For example, when Santa Barbara county reached out to me to start a program, I was skeptical if they needed it since it’s a predominantly affluent area. It was an important lesson for me, because I learned that there is a big community of people there who are diverse, low-income, and really need us.