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A girl makes oobleck, a slime that exhibits properties of both solids and liquids, during a session about rheology, the study of how liquids and solids flow.
A girl makes oobleck, a slime that exhibits properties of both solids and liquids, during a session about rheology, the study of how liquids and solids flow.

Sharing the power of STEM

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

Local girls learn about opportunities in science, engineering, technology and math

A group of local girls visited the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus on Nov. 11, 2019 to learn about opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The girls are members of Girls Inc. of Delaware, a nonprofit organization with a mission of “inspiring all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Girls Inc. of Delaware is partnering with UD for a recurring series of events that will help girls understand how they can change the world through STEM.

“These types of partnerships are critical for K-12 students to connect with engineering concepts, but equally as important, the resources of the College of Engineering and the University,” said Melissa Jurist, academic program manager for UD’s K-12 Engineering Outreach. Jurist and Julie Schneider, a postdoctoral research fellow in linguistics and cognitive science, organized the event.

Exposure to STEM is critical to an individuals’ success in these fields, said Schneider, but large gaps exist in STEM exposure between females and males, as well as between children from low and high resource communities. These gaps widen throughout the school years, resulting in at-risk females being among the least likely individuals to pursue STEM related college degrees.

“The current outreach event hopes to equip girls with the skills necessary to learn to set and achieve goals, boldly confront challenges, resist peer pressure, see college as attainable, and explore nontraditional fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM),” said Schneider. “By bringing them to the University of Delaware campus and offering hands-on STEM programming, some of whom this was their first time on a college campus, we hope they can begin to see college and STEM as attainable goals. We also provide them with information about setting goals early in the hopes that they can begin planning for the future now.”

Maria Katzarova, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Norman Wagner, the Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical Engineering, talked to girls from Girls Inc. of Delaware about shear thickening fluid, a puncture-resistant material under development for use in spacesuits.
Maria Katzarova, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Norman Wagner, the Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical Engineering, talked to girls from Girls Inc. of Delaware about shear thickening fluid, a puncture-resistant material under development for use in spacesuits.

Martha Hall, director of innovation of health sciences at UD, shared her work on functional fashion to improve patient health. Maria Katzarova, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Norman Wagner, the Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical Engineering, talked to the girls about shear thickening fluid, a puncture-resistant material under development for use in spacesuits.

“I am very happy to share what I have learned and how to apply that knowledge and especially with future generations of students,” said Katzarova.

Guided by members of Alpha Omega Epsilon, a sorority of female UD students in science engineering, the girls also learned the basics of how circuits work and what makes spider silk unusually strong. Then, they synthesized those skills with a hands-on activity — making a bag that lit up with LED lights.

“Who knows what engineering is?” asked Jurist during the activities. She went on to explain: “Engineers use the STEM fields to solve problems.”

Michael Vaughan, the associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Engineering and the interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion for UD, had a discussion with the participants over lunch.

“These young women scholars were very engaged and seemed to take full advantage of the visit content to learn more about themselves as learners,” said Vaughan.  “I always welcome the opportunity to speak with young scholars about their early life goals and aspirations. It is within these early discussions that we have the greatest ability to impact the trajectory of the K-12 academic pursuit. When we can help young students better understand various career options and the potential alignment with their passions, skills and abilities, we have increased success in enhancing the self-directed quality, relevance and context of their educational pathway. This is the true value of early intervention and our efforts within the K-12 engineering outreach space.”

The girls ended the day with a tour of campus, where they learned more about residential housing life and extracurricular activities. 

Schneider and Jurist said they hope to recruit more girls for an early 2020 event that incorporates computer science, electrical engineering and programming with applications in health sciences.

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