The University Record, September 4, 2001

U-M saves Smartgirl.com

By Judy Steeh
News and Information Services

The Institute for Research on Women and Gender (IRWG) has given a popular teen girls’ Web site a new lease on life. IRWG is the new owner of Smartgirl.com.

Just a few weeks ago, an updated version of the original site was rolled out with a new web address, www.smartgirl.org. “SmartGirl hadn’t been updated for several months. Now there are thousands of new posts and other updated material for girls to check out,” said program manager Tiffany Marra. Marra says an entirely new version of the site will be launched at the beginning of 2002, but promises that the best and most popular features will remain and become even better.

SmartGirl is a place where girls can make their voices heard online by sharing their opinions and stories anonymously with other girls. On the site, they can review the latest products and media or share their love letters and love poems. One of its most popular features is the Speak Out section, which polls girls about their opinions on everything from the latest movies to everyday issues, such as school, relationships and navigating adolescence.

Developed five years ago, Smartgirl has become so popular with young girls that its creators outgrew their resources to maintain it. Founder Isabel Walcott wanted to find a recipient that could handle the demands of the site, identify with its mission and even develop features that would offer girls new opportunities. Walcott contacted Abigail Stewart, director of IRWG, and professor of psychology and of women’s studies, who saw a potential to develop the opinion survey feature of the site in conjunction with another successful Institute program, Using Math: Girls Investigate Real Life (UM-GIRL).

Smartgirl.com also is attracting national support. The National Science Foundation has approved a grant to help IRWG incorporate the curriculum for UM-GIRL with the SmartGirl Web site. As Marra points out, “There’s more to data analysis than just computational proficiency. Students need to be able to make sense of mathematical ideas and acquire the skills and insights to solve real problems.” By transforming the survey portion of the Web site, Marra hopes to create a space where girls can ask their own research questions, design surveys and find out where their ideas fit within the larger SmartGirl community.

For the next eight months, while many features of smartgirl.org remain unchanged, classes from the School of Information, School of Education, Department of Psychology and the Women’s Studies Program will be redesigning several portions of the site and planning ways for girls to interact with undergraduate Web mentors.