STEM event reaches female middle school students

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Female middle school students were shown that they, too, can develop their interests in science, technology, engineering and math at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's and the Air Force Research Laboratory's event, "STEM-ulate Your Mind: Girls RULE!" Nov. 7 at STARBASE Wright-Patt.

AFRL and the Wright-Patterson AFB Educational Outreach Office hosted the free STEM celebration for female students in sixth to eighth grades from 16 schools and 12 districts. All lessons were presented by AFRL female scientists and engineers.

"Our goal is to build a strong and diverse workforce of tomorrow," said Daniel Andrews II, coordinator, Wright-Patterson AFB Educational Outreach Office and director, STARBASE Wright-Patt. "It was about getting these girls' interest in STEM sparked early on so that they can continue into high school and college and hopefully one day gain a job in STEM."

Susan Thornton, director of engineering and technical management, Air Force Materiel Command, served as the lunchtime speaker. Other STEM volunteer experts who participated from the AFRL Sensors Directorate were Aji Mattamana, Cathy Deardorf, Mary Gualtieri, Dr. Rita Peterson, Karynn Sutherlin and Bob Gemin. From AFRL's Gaming Research Integration Learning Laboratory (GRILL) at the 711th Human Performance Wing were volunteers 1st Lt. Christopher Faxon, Carly Rolfes, Kenneth Sewell and Dr. Jennifer Winner. Volunteers from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, AFRL, were Dr. Amber Reed and Dr. Shanee Pacley; from the Aerospace Systems Directorate, AFRL, was Bonnie Schwartz; and from AFRL HQ was Jessica Neidigh.

Activities ranged from can motors, computer-aided design and robot programming to modeling and simulation, and nanotechnology. Materials and software used included pop cans, batteries, magnets, copper wire, nano wire, beads, other materials and Google Sketchup.

"When the students pulled their first model from a rectangle into a cube, their response was great," Winner said. "They were so excited to be creating a 3-D model. It was something most had never done before. You could see their excitement.
"Many were asking, 'Can we do this at home?' For them to be excited about going home and working with the software - we could not have asked for a better response," she said.

"STEM-ulate Your Mind: Girls RULE! was a great learning workshop," Thornton said. "The middle school girls were fully engaged in the engineering and science sessions taught by AFRL women engineers and scientists. I am confident that this hands-on event sparked and encouraged the interest of these young women in science, technology, engineering and math. It will be exciting to see what these future scientists and engineers will accomplish."

"I liked today; it was fun," said sixth-grader Brynn Foley from Trotwood-Madison Middle School. "My favorite one is the last class (can motors). I liked the project that we did. It was hard but fun."

Andrews said he hopes the event planted seeds for the future.

"The volunteers wanted to impact these young middle school students in STEM and show them that they can become an engineer or a scientist. They wanted to get the female students to understand that STEM isn't scary; it's fun, and they can have a great career and profession becoming an engineer or scientist," he said.