April 1 2017

Girls in STEM promotes tech to young minds

The Daily Gazette

By: Daniel Fitzsimmons

Getting youngsters interested in science, technology is goal

Hudson Valley Community College hosted the fifth annual Girls in STEM event at their TEC-SMART facility in Malta on Saturday, attracting more than 200 girls in fourth- to eighth-grade from schools around the region that are interested in science and technology. 

The day featured 10 workshops that relayed basic scientific concepts like conductivity, air pressure and chemical reactivity. The workshops explained the concepts in a fun and interactive way that organizers hoped would spark interest among the girls into possibly pursuing a career in the sciences later on in life. 

“If you get them hooked early they stay hooked,” said Laurel Logan-King, the assistant superintendent at Ballston Spa Central School District, which had a significant presence at the event. “They can see themselves majoring in or going into a field that maybe they hadn’t considered before.”

The day is designed so that former participants of Girls in STEM that are now in high school volunteer to staff the event and walk the girls through the different workshops. Logan-King said one of her favorite things about the event is that it’s “students helping students helping students.” 

A workshop designed around the Disney hit “Frozen” had students producing electricity using vinegar, which was conducted via a circuit made with zinc-plated nails and a copper wire. The students also got to turn crystals blue by way of a chemical reaction, which made the crystals look like ice. 

Madison Wolfe, 17, a senior at Ballston Spa High School, helped run the workshop and said she volunteered to help make science fun for young girls. 

“I think it’s so cool to try to get them interested in this,” she said. “When I was their age I wasn’t exposed to the cool part of science, so now I get to introduce it to kids younger than I was.” 

Liz Devlin, 16, who also goes to Ballston Spa High School, said she wants to communicate to the students that a science-related career is good for girls. 

“A lot of men go into the science field but it’s good for women too,” she said.

The event this year was sponsored by AT&T, the Center for Economic Growth and Saratoga Prosperity Partnership. AT&T spokesman Ed Bergstraesser said the company has given $100 million nationally to STEM programs across the country. Of the Girls in STEM event, he said, “it fits snugly into our goals to contribute to STEM programs nationally.” 

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, also made an appearance at the event, and said the country has fallen behind the global economy when it comes to science and engineering. 

“If we want that to change, we need to empower more women, especially women of color, to join the ranks of America’s STEM pioneers and innovators,” Tonko said. 

Girls in STEM organizers cited U.S. Department of Labor statistics that estimated by 2020 there will be 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs, and other research that indicates women in STEM jobs make 33 percent more than those in non-STEM occupations.

Promoting women’s role in STEM starts with events like this, said Gabby Griswold, 16, of Ballston Spa High School. She helped staff a workshop that introduced students to the concept of compression. Small marshmallows were placed in a bottle with a cap that enabled air to be compressed into the bottle, shrinking the marshmallows. Releasing the air brought the marshmallows back to normal size. 

“We’re just trying to introduce them and get them interested in science,” she said. “Just doing something simple but telling them more about what’s actually happening.” 

Logan-King said Girls in STEM is a wonderful event to behold because older peers are able to encourage their younger peers, not just in science-related matters, but through basic interactions as well. 

“They want to come back, it’s a testament to this type of event,” she said. 

She said the event is also supported by the region’s significant presence of technology companies. Amanda Kirk, the lead designer of the game-company 1st Playable Productions, also spoke at Girls in STEM. The company uses video games to promote the understanding of mathematical scientific concepts. 

Speaking about the girls participating in Girls in STEM, Logan-King said, “When they see other women in the field, it’s not so much of a leap and maybe they can see themselves in a similar position.” 

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