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STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: W.J. Keenan High School Sophomore Jaelah Middleton Works to Keep Girls Interested in STEM

Jaelah MiddletonStudies have shown that girls lose interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) by the time they turn 15 years old, in part because of a lack of role models in those fields. W.J. Keenan High School sophomore Jaelah Middleton hopes to change that.


Jaelah was selected for the 2024 Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew, whose mission is to encourage all girls to go into STEM-related careers and break down stereotypes. She is the second student from W.J. Keenan, Richland One and Columbia to be selected for the Flight Crew since 2022.


Jaelah says her friend, MacKenzie Glover, who was selected for the Flight Crew in 2022, encouraged her to apply.


“I know that I want to inspire kids my age and younger to get involved in STEM. That’s an interest MacKenzie and I share,” Jaelah said.


She says she was extremely excited when she found out she was chosen for the Flight Crew because she knew it would play a huge part in her future.


“This was really going to help build my confidence. I have a lot of friends who know nothing about STEM. Being part of this organization and learning more about STEM, I can tell my friends who aren’t interested how much it helped me,” Jaelah said.


Dr. LeConte’ Middleton, Jaelah’s mother, says her daughter always had a love for science growing up.


“She never played with dolls. She wanted things like microscopes for gifts. She wanted chemistry sets for Christmas. Jayla always has been a STEM-oriented kid,” she said.


Jaelah also enjoyed building things with her family, particularly with her father, Herman Middleton, who works as a commercial painter and maker.


“When she and her brother were little, I always had them around me while I was putting things together, using and identifying tools. We purchased them LEGO kits over the years,” he said.W.J. Keenan Robotics Team 


Jaelah started to become serious about pursuing a STEM career in January 2023, when she and some friends of hers, as well as parents and community members, formed a robotics team at W.J. Keenan. Through the team, Jaelah has been able to learn problem-solving and leadership skills.


“When you’re building something or putting something together and it doesn’t work, you have to be able to identify the problem, identify how to solve it and reverse the issue,” she said.


Since becoming part of the Million Girls Moonshot Flight Crew, Jaelah has advocated for more funding for after-school STEM activities to lawmakers in the South Carolina State House, and she has participated in the Million Women Mentors symposium at Midlands Technical College, speaking with other women and girls hoping to break barriers in the STEM field. 

Jaelah plans to study civil engineering and architectural design in college. She hopes to continue influencing young girls to stay involved in STEM-related activities after they turn 15.

“There’s nothing wrong with being in STEM. I think when girls are in an environment that supports STEM and a community with like-minded people, it will influence you and keep you interested,” she said.