On Saturday morning, 45 middle school girls were split up into teams of three. They were given 20 spaghetti noodles, one large marshmallow, an arms length of tape and 20 small marshmallows. A timer was set for 5 minutes and the collaboration, planning and drawing began. The task - build the tallest structure you can out of spaghetti noodles, marshmallows and tape in 15 minutes.
Avery Molina, an eighth-grader at Three Lakes Middle School; Emily Davidson, a seventh-grader at Cumberland Academy and Rebecca Westerman, a sixth-grader from Chapel Hill designed and engineered a 25-inch tall structure with their noodles, marshmallows and tape. The girls won glow-stick bracelets for getting their structure the highest.
“I love engineering and that’s what I want to do in college,” Rebecca said.
This icebreaking activity was an introduction to a morning of activities at the Discovery Science Place focused on encouraging girls to seek out opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The local chapter of American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) teamed up with the Discovery Science Place for STEM like a Girl. The event allowed young girls from around the area together with women in the community who work in STEM related fields.
“The idea was to do something together to encourage girls to take STEM courses and to let them know what opportunities are available to them,” said Diane Kavaanugh, a member of the Discovery Science Place board of directors.
The girls split into four groups to rotate through four different stations. Women working in STEM related fields and student volunteers working toward degrees in STEM related areas worked with the girls on small projects.
Kate Lindekugel, a senior ecologist with RS&H, equipped her station with microscopes and helped the girls make a living daphnia necklace. The girls picked between a living daphnia or sea monkey to make a short-term habitat in a small water vessel that a piece of yarn was placed through in order to make a necklace.
“I hope these young ladies get an appreciation for chemistry and biology,” Ms. Lindekugel said. “When I was a kid, if you were a girl and good at science, you were encouraged to be a nurse or doctor. There is so much more out there and these fields of study are a lot of fun.”
Harmonie Hawley, Ph.D., assistant professor at UT Tyler, focused her project on wetlands. She said wetlands are nature’s engineers.
Her project included using celery to clean water that had been colored with food coloring to simulating a naturally occurring process called phytoremediation, a process that involves the use of plants to stabilize and/or destroy contaminants in the environment.
Yessika Perez, a software developer with Genesis Group, led the girls in a technology exercise using a coding wheel. The girls used the wheel to figure out coded messages.
Kassie Archer, Ph.D., assistant professor at The University of Texas at Tyler, led her math exercise in fractals. The activity allowed the girls to get experience with ways that fractals are used in science, math, movies and video games.
“Fractals deal with similarity,” Ms. Archer said. “They’re never-ending patterns that repeat themselves. It’s something you probably wouldn’t see in school and it’s something different for them to learn.”
STEM Like a Girl got like-minded girls from East Texas to the Discovery Science Place to learn about opportunities in STEM related fields. The volunteers and college students had the opportunity to mentor the middle school girls in the subjects and careers they have found as their professional calling.
“We were here to support and encourage the girls in the community,” said Abby Baker, a UT Tyler mechanical engineering student. “I hope this inspires them to keep doing what they’re doing and to stay with the STEM programs in their schools.”