Tuesday, October 20, 2015

USNA Hosts STEM Workshop for Middle School Girls

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler Caswell

The U.S. Naval Academy’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Center for Education and Outreach hosted a girls-only STEM workshop for middle school-age girls Oct. 17.

More than 230 girls from surrounding counties and neighboring states attended the day-long workshop.

Parents, midshipmen and faculty worked with the girls to provide hands-on activities in subjects such as aerospace engineering, biology, and physics. The goal was to empower students through confidence-building team exercises and present the opportunities and possibilities in STEM careers.

"Research shows that 6th, 7th, and 8th grade girls are particularly affected by their environment and peers," said mechanical engineering Professor Angela Moran, director of the STEM Center for Education and Outreach. “In many cases, they are not presented with all the opportunities that are available to them as they get older. We are trying to make sure they know of all those possibilities."

The STEM Center reaches 8,000-9,000 girls each year through a variety of programs. Its faculty wants to make sure those girls are left with a lasting impression that is continually reinforced.

"It has to be a three-way message," said Moran. "We engage the girls, we speak with the parents, and we interact with about 1,000 teachers a year, trying to ensure the sustainability and encouragement of STEM inside of the classroom.

"Our events are always a very rewarding experience, we see these young girls go from saying 'I can’t do that' to an hour later saying 'I didn’t know I could do that,'" she said.

The workshop consisted of hour-long modules testing various student-built designs. Midshipmen and faculty oversaw and demonstrated hands-on projects that showcased rocket design, meteorology, mathematical computation for music and more.

"From a young age, I feel like there can be some discouragement for girls to work in a STEM field," said Midshipman 2nd Class David Dedios, a mechanical engineering major and STEM volunteer. "It’s really important for them to get these experiences because these fields should be as diversified as possible."

The introduction or reinforcement of STEM fields as future career paths can help young girls decide earlier in what direction to focus their high-school and college studies.

"When I was young, I was very interested in math and science," said chemistry Professor Sarah Durkin. "When I went to college, I met freshmen who were engineering majors, and I had never even heard of engineering as a major. I wondered how they even knew what an engineer was at the age of 17. We want to prevent that. I think it’s great to inspire girls at this age, and if you don’t know something exists, you can’t work towards that as a goal."

USNA STEM events are sponsored by the Security of Defense, Office of Naval Research, the Naval Academy Foundation, the Northrop Grumman Foundation and The Bauer Foundations.

For more information about STEM at USNA, visit http://www.usna.edu/STEM/.


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