Several students from Girls Preparatory School and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy are learning the importance of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, related fields.

Meredith Harris with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute has been with the same group of girls all year.

Her goal is to teach those students the opportunities they have in a male-dominated industry.

Harris is a biologist, and she said she gets inspired to work with girls through The Tucker River Fellows Program.

She said it's exciting to see the students transform over the school year.

“They are a little bit nervous about getting their hands wet, maybe even touching the fish themselves,” said Meredith Harris. “Now, they come in, [and] they go straight to the tank where we hold the sturgeon, and they can't wait to see them and a lot of them have names.”

Claire Calhoun is a senior at GPS and has been part of the program for four years.

She said this program gives her the freedom to learn and hone her skills without being in a testing environment.

“It's not structured based off of what the school wants or what criteria we need to fill for some different aspiration,” Calhoun said.

One of the incentives Calhoun is doing through this program is upgrading a park for students at Middle Valley Elementary.

She recently wrote a grant to purchase benches as well as a whiteboard.

“So that they can have a place where they can be outside to learn and engage with the world around them,” Calhoun explained.

Calhoun plans to continue studying STEM at Loyola University in Chicago this fall.

She said this program through the aquarium had a lot to do with her decision.

Calhoun said she's also motivated by her teacher, Kayte Couch.

“So I let them do it, and I am the background support for them,” Couch said. “I think that gives them confidence.”

In the United States, women make up less than a quarter of people working in STEM-related fields.