STEM Girls

Adventures in Exploring Exciting Career Possibilities



Photography provided by the Cincinnati Museum Center

“Ann could take a more active interest in science.”

I have no idea what prompted my teacher, Miss Kastner, to pen that slightly scolding note on the back of my otherwise stellar third-grade report card. My shyness, misinterpreted as a lack of class participation, perhaps? It was 1965. I was nine years old. Maybe I was inadvertently adhering to society’s gender-biased intonations that science and math were boys’ subjects, and spelling and reading were girls’ subjects. At any rate, my parents ignored Miss Kastner’s concern for my
alleged sloth-like attitude toward science and she never mentioned it again.

Fast forward to chemistry class my senior year in high school. Suffice to say, I rued the day Robert Bunsen invented his frightening single-flame gas burner. I tried to embrace memorizing the Periodic Table of Chemical

Elements, but it only left me befuddled. Math word problems were the defining bane of my K-12 academic existence, however. To this day, should I hear the words, “If a train leaves Pittsburgh going 80 miles per hour…” my blood pressure spikes. And truth be told, during the darkest nights of my soul I perpetually ponder, “Did I declare journalism as my college major because I love to write or because it required only one year of college-level math?”

My point – and I do have one – is oh, how different my academic and career journeys might have been had Miss Kastner been able to point me toward a fun, fascinating program like STEM Girls, sponsored by Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. This free interactive program provides girls ages 7 to 14 with exciting and relevant science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content, connecting them with successful area women currently working in STEM fields.

STEM Girls is offered in two formats – STEM Girls University and STEM Girls Day Out, explains Kim Martin, the program’s community engagement coordinator. “Our STEM Girls University program involves our community and business partners coming in to talk about their STEM-related jobs and careers. They often give overviews of their lives and always lead hands-on activities.”

A University of Cincinnati chemical engineering student, for example, piqued elementary and middle school-aged students’ interest by teaching them how to make slime – that sticky, gooey, gross substance that results from mixing the compound sodium borate, or Borax, with water and glue. “Everyone loves making slime,” Martin notes. “What gave it the perfect STEM Girls spin is that they ended up talking about how non-Newtonian fluids [like slime] are used to make running shoes, safety vests and smart phones. They had fun making slime, but also realized the important uses for these non-Newtonian fluids, how they are applicable to everyday innovations.”

(Non-Newtonian fluids are fluids that don’t follow Newton’s law of viscosity. Viscosity: the state of being thick, sticky and semifluid in consistency, due to internal friction. You’re welcome.)

The STEM Girls Day Out program takes participants on field trips to the labs, offices and other facilities in Cincinnati and the surrounding tri-state region where women are actively working in STEM careers. “A visit to Procter & Gamble was an incredible opportunity for the girls to see the labs where they formulate new products,” Martin recalls. “They got to go behind the scenes, wearing lab coats and safety goggles, and observe where Procter & Gamble’s innovations take place. P&G really knocked it out of the park. One parent shared with me that their daughter fell head over heels in love with chemistry after that field trip.”

Other amazingly memorable STEM Girls Day Out field trips have included visits to Ethicon, Kroger Tech and
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

 

Why STEM Girls?

Young women often have a difficult time envisioning themselves in STEM careers because women are drastically under-represented in those fields, particularly in engineering and computer science, Martin says. According to the Economics and Statistics Administration (2011), although 47 percent of the overall workforce and 60 percent of college graduates are women, they hold fewer than 25 percent of STEM jobs. And, if women are under-represented in STEM fields, women of color are even more underrepresented, Martin notes. She hopes The STEM Girls program, with its diverse following (50 percent of participants are young women of color), will inspire more young women of color to pursue STEM careers.

 

If You Can See It, You Can Be It

According to Martin, STEM Girls is changing young women’s perceptions of what today’s working scientist looks like. Thus, if your young daughter dreams of one day pursuing a science-based career but feels discouraged by society’s lingering stale stereotype of a scientist as a lone, elderly, white man with wild hair mixing beakers of mysterious potions late at night in some dark, dank basement laboratory, getting involved in STEM Girls may be just the boost she needs.

“We emphasize the social nature of science, the team effort involved, showing girls that it’s not about working in isolation but working with others in tackling some societal challenges,” Martin says. “If your daughter is someone who wants to help change the world – and a lot of young women today want to – science may be the perfect field for her.”

STEM Girl Lorelei Choate, 11, of West Chester, is definitely one of those young women with a passion for science who is determined to do what she can to make the world a better place. “I want to be a medical robotics engineer and then feed into politics as I get older,” Lorelei
says. “I love the medical field. It intrigues me. I want to help people, and I think medical robotics engineering is a good way to do that. I feel like STEM Girls is really encouraging by bringing women in from all different STEM fields to encourage us to think outside the box.”

One of her favorite field trips was a visit to Ethicon, where surgical instruments are made. Lorelei and two other STEM Girls worked as a team to figure out how to piece together, without instructions, a harmonic scalpel – a surgical instrument that uses ultrasonic vibration rather than electric current to cut and cauterize tissue.

Sounds like the perfect adventure for Lorelei, who started dreaming of becoming a medical robotics engineer at age eight after reading scads of books about scientists and jumped at the chance to get involved in STEM Girls when her mother, Amanda, told her about the program.

Now that’s what I call an active interest in science.

Lorelei, Miss Kastner would have loved you.

 

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal is located at 1301 Western Ave., Cincinnati, OH  45203. For more information about STEM Girls, email KMartin@Cincymuseum.org or visit www.cincymuseum.org.