Dispelling STEM Stereotypes

Sisters from Newport High School, Ana Marino, left, and Victoria Marino helped to build a heart pump during a day-long workshop for young women in engineering at the Claremont Savings Bank Community Center in Claremont, N.H., on Oct. 3, 2014. Valley News – Jennifer Hauck

Claremont — The small wooden bridge, spray painted a pale orange, sat suspended between two sets of cinder blocks about 18 inches off the floor.

A group of girls from area schools had spent the morning and most of the afternoon Friday building the 30 inch long truss bridge from quarter-inch thick pieces of pine wood.

Jim McDonald, who teaches an introductory engineering course at Newport High, designed the bridge to hold at least 70 pounds. Now it was time to test its strength.

But instead of the two, 35 pound barbells that were brought along for the test, 75-pound Makalya Barre, an eighth grader from Walpole, who helped assemble the bridge and measured and cut many of the wooden pieces, volunteered to stand atop the trusses.

McDonald laid a flat board across the top of the span and lifted Barre up. Not even a creak.

Several students from Unity Elementary School constructed two, 71/2-foot kayaks using corrugated plastic, a glue gun and the always reliable Duct tape.

Natasha Deluca, a lab technician with The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, drew the design on a small scale, and the first job for the students was to convert that drawing, using measurements and algebra, to its actual size. From there the students, with guidance from volunteers with the New Hampshire Boat Museum in Wolfeboro, N.H., were down on their hands and knees using retractable knives to carefully cut out the sides, bottom, top and bulkheads.

At the other end of the gym, Celeste Fay, a civil engineer with Alden Research Laboratory in Holden, Mass., facilitated the building of a waterwheel using a bicycle wheel with tennis balls cut in half attached to the outer part of the rim through the spokes.

Kiara Knight, a Stevens High 10th-grader, explained that they were trying to connect the spinning wheel to a housing unit with a belt that would generate electricity to a small light bulb. Knight said she has taken some building courses and wants to pursue a career in engineering.

Nearly all of the students said they were drawn to participate because of an interest in math and science, a possible career in engineering or medicine and for the simple love of “building things.”

“I want to be a doctor and I thought this would be a great stepping stone,” said Elissa Brady, an eighth-grader in the Fall Mountain school district, while explaining how her group assembled the tubes and valves of the heart pump that simulated pumping blood through the right side of the heart to the lungs.

Rebecca Menard, a Stevens junior, helped construct the two sections of the eight-foot electrical tower, complete with guy wires and a cardboard cutout of a King Kong replica attached to the top. The students carefully applied cross braces and other pieces to the tower’s four main corner supports.

Also helping on the tower was Stevens freshman, Alyssa Ellison, who saw the opportunity to develop her growing interest in math and science and becoming an engineer.

The day’s workshops presented challenges along the way for each team, but with the help of the professional engineers and facilitators, the students were nudged toward solutions and completing their project.

A.J. Burns, an eighth-grader at Claremont Middle School, worked on the bridge, where students had to take the measurements from the drawings.

The last part of the day was reserved for demonstrations. In the community center’s small pool, students remotely controlled a “sea perch” built from a kit, and guided it through Hula Hoops weighed down in the water.

Meaghan Taylor, a Unity seventh-grader, was the first to slide into the S.S. Nemo, one of the kayaks named by the students, and easily paddled the length of the pool and back, emerging completely dry.

Teachers who accompanied the students were pleased with the summit and the opportunity it afforded the young women.

Kim Lewis, a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher in Walpole, said when she told her classes about the event, 20 girls immediately expressed interest, with 13 eventually attending.

Read the entire article by Patrick O’Grady in the Valley News at http://www.vnews.com/home/13821115-95/dispelling-stem-stereotypes

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