Meet The Teen STEM Queen Transforming Her Community & Tackling The High School Dropout Rate

This article is part of an exciting series we launched in 2018 called Today’s Wonder Women – designed to celebrate the inspiring, impactful, empowering and extraordinary things ordinary women are doing every day. Over the coming months we will be sharing interviews, essays, articles and guest posts about women who are creating change. If you have a story to share and want to add your voice to the Today’s Wonder Women conversation, get in touch by emailing

We believe that lasting change begins at a local level, with community initiatives started by people invested in seeing their neighbors’ lives improved. We also believe that the next generation are already making their mark on the world in so many exciting ways, including changing their communities for the better.

Enter Jacqueline Means who is the living embodiment of what it looks like ot be a next-generation change-maker. She hails from Southbridge Wilmington in Delaware, often referred to as “Murdertown USA”, where shootings, and robberies are the norm. It is also the place where more than 60% of kids dropout of school making it the city has that one of the highest dropout rates in the country. Jackie has defied these odds. She is a hard working student who attends the Delaware Military Academy, where she maintains a 4.0 GPA. Jackie is only 15 years old, and because of her passion for science, technology, engineering, and math, she founded a program Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative.

She has been hosting Girls Empowerment STEM Events on a regular basis throughout the past two years and has so far impacted over 200 girls from the city. Each girl who participates in the program gets to do five science experiments of her own, receives a healthy lunch, an interactive anti-bullying demonstration, and an inspiring talk from prominent women in the community. What makes Jackie an everyday Wonder Woman in our eyes is the way she is working to change the status quo and give girls in her community the opportunity to thrive, and not just be passed off as a stereotype or statistic. We asked her about her passion for STEM and what she hopes to achieve through her events.

Tell us about your upbringing in Southbridge Wilmington, and what you witnessed in your community?

I come from Southbridge Wilmington DE, aka “Murdertown USA”; where shootings and robberies are the norm; Where more than 60% of kids dropout of school the city has one of the highest dropout rates in the country. I often hear gunshots from my home and have even witnessed someone get shot right across the street from my home. But, I am doing my part to change the stigma associated with Southbridge. We all care about this community and know we are better than this stigma. There is a high dropout rate for kids in school in your area, yet you remained in school.

How difficult was it for you to see so many kids take a different path?

Seeing other kids my age take a path so drastically different from my own, for example, becoming apart of gangs or falling victim to violence and drug addiction, is hard. Knowing that if they only had the resources available to them, they could be so much more than the stereotypes surrounding them is difficult. That is part of the reason why I started my initiative; So I could provide a different picture of what life could be to those who were only getting one image of their potential future.

You are passionate about STEM subjects, where did this passion come from?

I have always loved STEM. Ever since I was little, I can remember being absolutely obsessed with chemical reactions, like baking soda and vinegar or Mentos and soda, and just loving all things science-y and STEM related.

Tell us about attending Delaware Military academy and how that has had an impact on your future ambitions?

Being a cadet at the Delaware Military Academy has definitely helped with my leadership abilities. Even though I am only a Junior, I am the Company Commanding Officer for 2nd Company, Alpha Battalion. Being in a role where I am looked at as a leader and an example for other cadets to follow has definitely instilled a lot of pride in myself and in my uniform. I am involved in a lot of clubs and activities at DMA. To name just a few, I am in: Business Professionals of America, Chess Club, Cheerleading, Marksmanship, Basketball, Track, Student Government, and many others.

Being so heavily involved at my school and in my community has definitely taught me a lot about time management. DMA has taught me a lot about the benefits of the Military and serving in our forces. I still plan on becoming a neurosurgeon, but I have been considering the benefits of serving and then going to college.

Because of the high dropout rate, you are committed to helping other young women in your town get on the path to success, starting with education. Tell us about the program you started and how many girls you have impacted so far?

I founded Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative. W.U.S.I. is an initiative I started which is dedicated to bringing STEM, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, to the underprivileged girls of Wilmington. I have improved the lives of the girls who attend my events by giving them a newfound love for STEM. Having STEM skills is necessary to thrive in the 21st century, making it imperative that today’s youth is capable and prepared to live in the inevitable STEM-forward future.

My goal is to change the girls’ negative mindset about STEM, which I feel I have totally accomplished, because, from when they walk in to when they leave, they go from, “This stinks! We have to do science and math stuff!” to, “That was so fun! Science is actually really cool!”. It’s a complete change in opinion and mindset. Through my Girls Empowerment STEM Events, I’ve been able to positively impact over 350 young girls and counting. I am showing the girls that they can overcome negative stereotypes and dominate in STEM fields where we remain underrepresented.

I started hosting my Girls Empowerment STEM Events over two years ago. Through my events, I have been able to positively impact over 350 young girls. At each event, every girl not only gets to do her own science experiments slime, alignate worms, elephant toothpaste, etc (including making Ice-Cream), an interactive anti-bullying demonstration, and an inspiring talk from prominent women from their community, including Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester and Lieutenant Governor Bethany Hall Long.

What do the girls learn in the Wilmington Urban STEM Initiative, aside from the academic focus?

I am showing them that they are capable of absolutely anything. I want to show them that aiming high is a realistic goal, and that by believing in one’s own abilities and working hard, it is possible to face any challenge with grace and it is possible to overcome obstacles and change their circumstances for the betterment of everyone.

You recently had congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester come and give a talk to the girls. She is the first black woman to represent Delaware in Congress, and she also just won re-election. What does it mean to the young girls in your program to see a successful and powerful black woman standing in front of them?

With so many negative influences on social media and in society, I think it’s important for young girls, especially girls of color, to see a positive, black, female role model to look up to and aspire to be like. By having someone as important and powerful as the Congresswoman come to my event and show the girls that she does truly care about them, they are being shown that they always have someone in their corner, rooting for them to succeed and overcome any obstacles and/or challenges they may face in their lives.

She too has faced a lot of adversity but she didn’t let that stop her and now look at her! She speaks to the girls about her adversity and how they just have to persevere through it to accomplish your goals in life.

Why is it important for you to be a changemaker in your community?

Living in an area of Wilmington where things can be very negative, I want to do my part to better my community and make Southbridge a better place. Because I started my initiative, I am able to have a positive impact on young girls in Wilmington and help those girls develop a love for STEM early, and use that newfound love to keep them focused and goal-oriented and let them know that STEM can be a career choice for them.

There are people who often write off youth and their efforts to make change, but we are so inspired by what we see with teens across the country right now, most notably with the March for Our Lives activists. What would you say to people who look at a 15 year-old and underestimate what you can do?

Having a passion to help others is not exclusive. It does not care about race, gender, religion, or anything else. Anyone can feel compelled to help better other people’s lives.

How would you encourage other leaders in towns where there are many kids dropping out and a lack of resources especially for young girls?

Where would you encourage them to start?I would tell them to think of all the good they could do. I would encourage them to think of the impact they could have on those young girls’ lives. I’d tell them that they can do absolutely anything they put their mind to. And that as long as they work hard and stay true to their values, they can do anything! I’d tell them to start in their own school or local community center.

What do you think today’s political leaders can learn from teen such as yourselves, even though you can’t vote (yet!)?

I think politicians can learn to think about others and put themselves in other people’s shoes. When I am out volunteering or hosting my Girls Empowerment STEM Events, I know I am doing the right thing, because if the roles were reversed and someone had the ability to help me end expose me to something cool and interesting, like STEM, I would absolutely want them to do that.

Tell us about your TEDx Talk and the feedback you have received since the video was released?

My TEDx Talk was an amazing experience. When I first started speaking, I tried to be rehearsed, but once I started to speak from my heart and stopped trying to be so rehearsed, all the pressure I felt was lifted. And the weird thing was, all that pressure, came from myself. Everyone else said no one’s expecting me to be perfect, but I was, and that was extremely harmful to my confidence. From the moment I submitted the application to do the TEDx talk, I was always thinking, “Can I really do this?”, and the answer was yes.

TEDx talks are about just that, talking. It’s not about putting on a show you’ve rehearsed a thousand times. It’s about letting people see the real you and getting your message out there. I kept overthink things, when all I had to do was speak my truth from my heart. I haven’t received a whole lot of feedback since the video was released, although I do occasionally get someone who recognizes me from my video.

It seems community activism runs in your family, as you helped your older brother start the Wilmington Urban Chess Initiative in 2015. What was the aim of this initiative and what has been the impact on kids’ lives over the past few years?

Our goal was to expose kids to chess, a game that promotes cognitive thinking and encourages thinking ahead. We hoped that by showing kids the benefit of thinking before doing, they’d be more likely to make less bad decisions in their lives. I know one of the kids we taught is now in middle school and is captain of their schools’ chess club. My mom instilled in both of us volunteerism at an early age. She always said “If you want to make your community a better place then start doing something to make it a better place.”

Who are your heroes and role models in life, and why?

I just love Dr. Teri Quinn-Grey. She is a chemist for the DuPont Company and a wonderful person. She was a speaker at one of my first Girls Empowerment STEM Events, and she spoke about the importance and power of believing in one’s own abilities, which I still use to this day. She defied the odds. As a black woman in America, her odds of being successful in the STEM field were not high, but she defied those odds and changed her circumstances for the betterment of everyone.

Finally, what makes you a powerful woman?

My resolve to be successful and my determination to be unstoppable. Being unstoppable means not stopping when you fail. Failure is a necessary step in every journey, and to be unstoppable means to know that it’s okay to get discouraged, and it’s okay to take a step back, but it’s never okay to walk away, and I never walk away from a challenge, so I believe that is what makes me a powerful young woman.