Young girls explore career opportunities in math
By Valerie Hilkert
photo by Valerie Hilkert
Middle school students discover how fast water flows through
rocks in a permeability workshop at the G.E.M.S. event Nov. 3.
UW-Fox hosted the Girls Engineering Math and Science (G.E.M.S.) event for 160 middle school students from across the state Nov. 3.
The event gave attendees the opportunity to explore and find value in math, science and technology.
"I love this program because it teaches you so much," Olivia Peterson, eighth grade student at Kaleidoscope Academy, said.
The objective of G.E.M.S. is to inspire young girls in grades six through eight to explore careers in math, science and technology fields.
"The exposure is why I wanted my granddaughter to come here... to see what really interests her, and this is just a snapshot of what's there, but a little snapshot is better than nothing," New Holstein mayor Dianne Reese said.
Fourteen different workshops allowed to students to engage in hands-on science activities.
In a forensic science workshop, students investigated a crime scene and human bones.
"I liked Forensic Anthropology. You have to be pretty pragmatic to decide whether the bones are female or male," eighth grade student Ashley Thomas said.
What's So Funny About Your Funny Bone was another favorite workshop.
"We got to put casts on our partners. We had to take them off, but we got to keep them after we were done, so that was fun. The activities just get really exciting," sixth grade student Lauren Pahlow said.
In the Go with the Flow workshop, students learned about porosity, permeability and the importance of figuring out how accessible water is.
Students were surprised to find many of their hypotheses were wrong.
"The girls were really great about just jumping to the math. I was very happy about that. We don't want to be having to practically raise the Titanic with tweezers to get water, so we have to calculate things like porosity and permeability," Beth Johnson, assistant professor of geology, said.
"We usually don't do that every day. It was a lot of fun to learn about the rocks and play with the water," Taryn Reese, sixth grader at New Holstein Middle School, said.
The event's no-pressure environment allowed girls to interact with other girls who share similar interests and aspirations in the fields of engineering, chemistry, physiology, geometry, health care, biology, technology and more.
"You should always be looking for new ways and new topics to learn... maybe it's a situation you always wanted to know about," Cathy Paynter, director of continuing education, said.
The event encouraged girls to appreciate science and to see more than just formulas. Participants agree that knowledge of science is needed to perform basic tasks.
"We can't even do food preparation if we don't know the math and the science. What if you forget the baking soda in a muffin... it's a chemical reaction and it doesn't rise," Paynter said.
UW-Fox professors wanted girls to learn about science at a young age.
"I think it's important for anybody to understand science. You don't understand it unless you have the opportunity to do it, to think about it. In middle school especially, girls get turned off, there is a lot of social pressure not to think," Teresa Gonya, associate professor of biology, said.
Some students did not understand their workshop choices, but were willing to accommodate.
"Students were really willing to be accommodating...it really meant a lot to me," Paynter said.
"It's a good problem to have because then it's something special and will encourage individuals to sign up earlier."
Throughout the event, everyone maintained a positive attitude to maximize the learning experience.
My granddaughter was a little disappointed because she wanted the bone class over the Go with the Flow class, but... you get as much of the classes as you put into it," Reese said.
Volunteers and instructors enjoyed taking part in the event and hope for a stronger participation rate next year.
"I hope to be part of this event again in the future. These sorts of projects are near and dear to my heart," Johnson said.
The G.E.M.S. volunteer group is comprised of UW-Fox students who pitch in every year to help. This year, 35 volunteers participated in the event.
"The event went really well because of all the people who were volunteering. We couldn't do this without them," Gonya said.
For next year, everyone involved hopes to be able to have more sessions, so more students can participate and explore the world of science.
"I enjoyed it. I just wish I would have had enough girls registering, so I could have three sessions," Johnson said.
Some student volunteers would like to see more of a workshop variety.
"I think next year they should have something with animals because kids like animals and that's related to science, too," Meyers said.
Students entering high school encouraged other young girls to experience the opportunities of G.E.M.S. next year.
"I loved it. It's my last year, I am really sad but I hope other people will love it, too," Peterson said.
For more information on getting involved with G.E.M.S., visit http://wisconsingems.org/.