Last Friday, 30 female students from Gorton Junior High School had the opportunity to participate in Tech Collective’s, the state’s Bioscience and Information Technology Industry Association, third annual STEM in the Middle Girls Career Expo, which aims to expose young girls to career opportunities in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The Gorton students joined 60 other female students from West Warwick’s John F. Deering Middle School and Providence’s Sophia Academy for the event at Rhode Island College, which was hosted by the Rhode Island Stem Center at RIC, funded by a Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island Industry Partnership grant and sponsored by Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems.
According to Tech Collective’s press release, middle school is seen as a turning point where female students may begin to shy away from STEM fields because of gender stereotypes or a lack of awareness of opportunities in those fields.
“If you don’t get them before middle school, you lose them,” said JoAnn Johnson, manager of youth education programs for Tech Collective. “Girls take more math and science classes, but then they begin to question their abilities based on their gender.”
STEM in the Middle is based on Tech Collective’s event for female high school students called GRRL Tech, which over 500 girls attend each year.
But Johnson knew it was important to reach the middle school-aged girls, so STEM in the Middle was created three years ago. Each year, different schools from urban or low-income areas are invited to attend, in an effort to give those students access to opportunities they might not otherwise have.
“We ask that it be a mixture of students with passion for STEM or who could be interested in STEM careers,” explained Giselle Mahoney, Tech Collective PR and communications manager.
Each student had the opportunity to participate in three of nine workshops covering computer technology and programming, social media, mathematics, geographic information systems, chemistry, art, or electronics. Female industry professionals or educators led the workshops. Participating companies and organizations were Ahlers Designs, Free Geek Providence, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Rhode Island College and the RI Foundation.
“I thought it was a great opportunity, a good mix of science with hands-on experiences,” said Nancy Grover, a Gorton science teacher. She especially enjoyed watching her students make earrings out of blown electrical fuses and experiment with a substance known as oobleck, which is both a solid and a liquid.
Seventh grader Madison Foster said her favorite part of the day was working with the oobleck. She explained that while moving the substance quickly, she was able to shape it like clay.
“But when you would stay still, it would fall through your hands,” said Foster, who hopes to design social media websites in the future. “That was fun.”
Another seventh grader, Caitlyn Fallon, found the expo to be very informative about possible careers.
“It seems a lot more interesting now,” said Fallon, who wants to explore a career in computer design.
“How you get to make your own, instead of using someone else’s ideas [is interesting],” said Fallon.
A mixture of seventh and eighth graders from Gorton was able to attend, chosen by teachers and guidance counselors for their interest in science and technology.