Speaking of Girls in STEM

Welcome to the July issue of our FLATE FOCUS newsletter. As our country focuses on increasing the number of STEM workers at all levels of the workforce, one obvious, but elusive source is young women and girls. Women are still significantly underrepresented in most, but not all STEM fields. We can do something about that, but to borrow a phrase, “it takes a village.” We all have to participate in the challenge, and the challenge includes changing some of the ways we do business.

Rather than dwell on the root causes that are riddled with the historic sociology of the human race, I am  going to move on to what we should do and what we can do now to build and strengthen our female STEM workforce. How do we respond to change these ideologies? I see two parts to the solutions puzzle. First, we have to get girls and women interested in STEM careers. Second, we have to keep them there - both in school and later in the workforce. There are nurturing recruitment programs going on across the country in a variety of venues for specific STEM disciplines. Most have some common elements in that they are nurturing, and they are often single sex cohorts. They teach and encourage self-confidence. They mentor girls and young women. They are woven with fun and focus. They reveal STEM’s role in helping people. They are all good, and many of these programs are very successful.

All of these elements cannot stop at the end of recruiting programs. In mostly male dominated STEM education programs and workplaces, women continue to need these program elements during their tenure in school as well as in the workplaces they enter. Our college programs and workplaces have to be warm and welcoming. It has to enriching. It has to be fair. It has to honor and respect every woman as an equal professional.

There is revealing data available if you look for it. But, to answer these questions, I look to my own experiences, and to those of my female STEM professional colleagues. Our many and mixed experiences map easily to published reports. Many of our lives are marked with life changing events that are gender related. Our stories include the good, the bad and the ugly. Some stories should not have to be experienced by anyone, and most certainly, should not be experienced by today’s rising women STEM professionals.

This issue celebrates girls and women in STEM. Read about FLATE’s very successful all girls summer robotics camp, and meet our Florida female engineering technology faculty. Pick up some tips and best practices when reading about our three-day educator camp for recruiting girls into STEM careers. Be inspired by the interview with Ivone Pinz√≥n, a vivacious Colombian electronics engineering student who volunteered as a camp assistant for our “all girls” camp. Take a trek in the Himalayas, and see how some very poor children in the region are thriving in an educational environment that centers around music (which in a way is woven with STEM principles).

Take a few moments to read the FOCUS, and take some time to focus yourself on what you can do to support young women wanting to, or already considering a STEM career. How can "YOU" help them get from here to there? How can you make a difference? How can we help?

Cracking the Challenge to “Engaging Girls in STEM” …..Is it OK to be a Smart Girl?

When it comes to engaging Girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) there is no single code, or a “one size fits all" answer. STEM based jobs and careers are exciting, challenging, and on average are among the highest paying and fastest growing in the nation. (Source: Duke Chronicle). Then too, facts and figures aside, the challenge to “Engage Girls in STEM” is ever present, leaving educators like Andi Groves and Lawanda Cannon looking for strategies to attract girls and women to STEM-based education and careers.

Cannon, who teaches health science at Sligh Middle Magnet School, and Groves an 8th grade science teacher at Monroe Middle School, both in Tampa, FL, say girls should not limit themselves to what society has chalked as traditional professions for women. “Don’t be afraid to be a smart girl” says Groves. “You can be the smart, cute girl, or a chic nerd.” Both Groves and Cannon believe girls have the ability to communicate more effectively, and have a special gift of creativity that could reveal a “softer” side of STEM and robotics. To help keep students’ creative juices flowing and gain deeper insight on how to engage girls in STEM and robotics, Cannon and Groves recently attended the three day STEM camp for teachers offered by FLATE, the National Science Foundation Regional Center of Excellence in high-tech manufacturing at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon.

The “Engaging Girls in STEM” workshop for middle and high school teachers focused on curriculum and resources designed to engage girls in STEM. The workshop, which has become one of FLATE’s staple summertime offerings, was the third of its kind, and ran concurrently with the “All Girls” robotics camp. During the workshop, participants explored and observed various facets of robotics technology, and gained insight on how it can be used within a classroom setting. Given that “our future is deeply vested in technology” the workshop according to Cannon, successfully showcased the everyday applications of STEM and how to incorporate them into her curriculum.

The workshop was built around activities, developed and presented by Dr. Marie Boyette, associate director of FLATE, and were not only “hands-on, but minds-on.” For example, the state-of-the-art “Made in Florida” lesson plans for middle and high school students offered a wealth of resources in terms of customizing curriculum to meet individual needs. The grant writing workshop was another valuable opportunity to help educators secure additional, much needed funding for some of the technology programs at their schools. In addition to providing curriculum resources, the workshop also served as a vehicle for teachers to network and share their knowledge, expertise and best practices with one another. “When I was growing up such opportunities weren’t as freely available to women. I would like to show the road ahead to my children and my students about the careers and opportunities that STEM offers” Cannon said.

Indeed, the workshop was an eye opening experience for many educators, and highlighted the importance of STEM in “encouraging girls to take on more leadership roles.” Frances Perez a business technology teacher at Burnett Middle School in Tampa who also attended the camp says she plans on using the robotic arms, that were used in the workshop, for team building exercises in her classroom. She is also interested in working with FLATE to organize field trips to local high-tech manufacturing facilities so students will be able to see robotics in action, and “be exposed to different opportunities that’ll help them make better career decisions.”

Perez is on the right path. In that, experts like Cara Morton, a current Ph.D. student specializing in structural engineering and education at the University of South Florida acknowledges educators’ role in igniting students’ interest in STEM. While mathematics and science are important, Morton says it is only 30% of the larger STEM puzzle. Being an engineer, she says, is more about creativity and problem solving, and “that” she says could serve as a hook in “engaging girls in STEM.”

For more information on the workshop, or to learn about FLATE’s award winning STEM resources visit www.fl-ate.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger, P.I. and Executive Director of FLATE at barger@fl-ate.org, and Dr. Marie Boyette, associate director of FLATE at Boyette@fl-ate.org.

Robots Help Pave the Way for Future Women Engineers

Summer is a time for kids to have fun, to build, to explore activities that they might not have had time for during the school year. While science and mathematics may not be a favorite summertime activity for all, robots are a sure hit and a must-have for all kids. Just ask Mahsah Iranipour, a seventh grader at Liberty Middle School in Tampa. Iranipour can hardly contain her excitement and thrill for robots. “They (robots) are just too cool. I like them because they are fun to watch, and you can program them to do what you want them to do.”

As with Iranipour, love for robots is common among the next generation of kids who are simply fascinated by technology. Iranipour was one of 20 girls who attended the ALL Girls Robotics camp offered by FLATE—the National Science Foundation Center of Excellence in manufacturing at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon. The week-long camp, which has been offered for a third time in a row, was held in June, and designed to capture the interest particularly of middle and high school girls by following the current trend of robotic applications used throughout the entertainment media.

“Today’s kids are tomorrow’s technologists” said Dr. Marilyn Barger, P.I. and executive director of FLATE. “As technology becomes increasingly important in today’s world, FLATE is providing the tools that will not only help kids create technology, but understand and use it.” At the camp students learned how to reconfigure LEGO MINDSTORMS robots and program them to follow specific commands, be part of robotic team challenges. Students also learned design techniques utilizing software programs, watched operation of a 3D printer to produce prototype parts, and enjoyed a delicious treat of ice cream while visiting the high tech manufacturing facility of Publix Dairy in Lakeland, FL.

“My favorite part was building the robot” said Haylee Bullington, a 6th grader at McLane Middle School in  Tampa. Bullington who has always liked science and math, says building the robot was complex, but it reiterated her passion for mechanics and “building stuff” in general. To that effect, the camp was successful in developing a knowledge base of modern manufacturing, robotics design and programming. Ivonne Pinzon, a volunteer robotics technologist at the camp was highly impressed particularly by the “investigative” aspect of the camp. Pinzon who is currently on an educational exchange program from Santo Tomas University in Bogota Colombia says the camps are a perfect way to capture children’s interest in STEM/robotics, and help them be inquisitive about how “stuff works.”

Curriculum for the camp comprised of a mixture of Lego educational materials that are integrated with Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) subjects and modern manufacturing, and were conducted in a competitive problem solving environment that promoted teamwork. “It excites me to know that in the future robots will play an important role in performing everyday tasks that humans do right now” said Nakssie Dickerson a 6th grader at Williams IB Middle School. She says the fascinating part about robots is that humans get to program robots to do what they want them to do using STEM concepts.

Indeed the “All Girls” robotics camp served as an effective vehicle in breaking stereotypes about women,  robotics and engineering, and educating girls about STEM, and motivating them to pursue STEM based careers. “It showed students how STEM can be fun and interesting” said Pinzon who played an integral role in the camp in terms of trouble shooting problems with the robots and helping campers understand the basic principles of programming. “As a student the most important thing is to stay focused, be inquisitive about new things, and investigate. Try to study, investigate and build a strong future” Pinzon said.

For more information about FLATE’s “All Girls” Robotics Camp visit www.madeinflorida.org, or contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at barger@fl-ate.org.

sTEm–at-Work Puzzle 29: Vapor composition of mixtures of two secret perfume liquids

A technician has measured the boiling points of various liquids made by mixing different amounts of two “we-sell-smells” company secret perfume liquids. The 1st measurement was the boiling point of 100% pure “Essence of Skunk” the last was for 100% “Essence of Pearl”. 14 other liquid mixture boiling points are shown on the bubble-point curve. The technician also determined the percent of “Essence of Pearl" in the vapor just above each boiling mixture. That percent vapor (gas) data is shown as the Dew-point curve. The technician knew that the smell of a liquid drop of a perfume comes from the gas just above that liquid drop. Now, the technician knows a lot more about the behavior of the two secret perfume liquids when they become liquid mixtures with different percentages of “Essence of Pearl”. For example:

1) A boiling liquid made from a 50% mixture of both liquid ingredients produced a perfume that has a vapor that contains 50% “Essence of Skunk” and 50% “Essence of Pearl”. Yes or No.

Submit your answers below the blog post, or on http://www.fl-ate.org/.

Celebrating Women in Engineering Technology

As part of our celebration of women in STEM this month, I am very excited to acknowledge three female faculty in the Engineering Technology programs at three of our State Colleges. These women provide positive role models for students. They walk the talk, providing mentorship and encouragement for females in their own programs as well as in all other STEM careers. Female enrollment has increased in Engineering Technology and related technical programs by 8% between 2009 and 2011; research demonstrates the importance of having women instructors in STEM coursework for female students. We are very lucky to have these three women on our Engineering Technology team in Florida!

Adrienne Goulde-Choquette is the program manager and lead faculty for the Engineering Technology program at the State College of Florida, Manatee (SCF). Adrienne is starting her forth year at SCF and offers the ET specializations in Alternative Energy, Digital Design and Modeling and Electronics. Adrienne is a mechanical engineer, a photographer, and is an MSSC Certified Production Technician. She participated in FLATE’s Iberian Partnership for Technician Excellence both in summer 2011 and spring 2012. The Fall 2012 Engineering Technology Forum will be held at her program site on the Venice campus of SCF the last Thursday and Friday of September.

Sara Galatotio will start her second year as faculty for engineering technology at Florida State College at  Jacksonville. Sara is an assistant professor and teaches various advanced manufacturing specialization courses that include OSHA safety, microprocessor fundamentals, survey of electronics, digital fundamentals, and introduction to manufacturing, hydraulics and pneumatics. Sara holds a bachelors and masters degree in materials science and engineering from the University of Florida. In 2006, Sara won second place in the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining Young Person World Lecture competition sponsored by Rolls Royce. The goal of the competition was to take a difficult scientific topic and relate it to the general public. Furthermore, she is MSSC certified, and a member of the National STEM Consortium's mechatronics team which is working to establish a one year academic mechatronics program that will be available across the country.

Margie Lee will be starting her first year teaching at Florida Gateway College (FGC) in Lake City in August. Margie comes to Florida from western North Carolina. Before that she was in Oregon where she taught engineering technician-related programs. Margie has a B.S. and M.S. in industrial systems and engineering as well as an MBA degree. She has also taught in Oregon. FGC offers both the quality and advanced manufacturing specialization tracts in the A.S. Engineering Technology (ET) degree. Margie will lead FGC's A.S. degree in engineering technology degree program which currently offers both quality and advanced manufacturing specialization tracts. John Piersol, director of agriculture and engineering technologies is extremely excited about the expertise Margie is bringing to FGC. In addition to teaching ET courses, Margie will oversee FGC's mobile manufacturing trailer which is used for both coursework and outreach, and is fully equipped with advanced manufacturing equipment. Margie is looking forward to joining Florida's ET faculty, participating in our ET forums, and rebuilding the ET program at FGC.

Sound of Music from the Himalayas

In a tiny town, far removed from the Austrian alps, the blue-ridged hills are resounding with the music of Mozart. Nestled in the lap of the Himalayas, far from Salzburg, in the Himalayan town of Kalimpong, is Gandhi Ashram School—a Jesuit school committed “to making a difference in the lives of the poorest of the poor.”

It all started in 1980, when the Late Father Edward McGuire, a Canadian Jesuit priest came up with the idea of using music to impart education to children of local “coolies” and subsistence farmers with meager income. He chanced upon this idea when he saw first-hand, while working at another regional school, the remarkable effect music had on the local children. He knew immediately good education without fees, with music introduced as part of the curriculum was their ticket to a new and more meaningful life. Thereafter, Fr. McGuire hired a violin teacher, bought eight violins from a music shop in Calcutta, and in 1993 with guidance from his supervisors started Gandhi Ashram School, named after Mahatma Gandhi—a renowned leader championing the rights of the downtrodden. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today Gandhi Ashram is a reflection of McGuire’s biblical beliefs “to give life and to give it abundantly.” Fr. Paul D’Souza, who has taken over the reigns since the passing of Fr. McGuire in 2005, says the school’s approach to education is multi-faceted. Its vision is rooted in Jesuit education “that aims to assist in the total formation of each individual, emphasizing life-long openness to growth.” D’Souza, who currently serves as the director, says the school is committed to continuing McGuire’s vision “to give a hopeful future to poor children who have been suffering, as their families have for generations, from poverty, malnutrition, and lack of educational opportunities.” The school’s primary focus is on providing quality education that will enable each student to discover his or her talents/potential. Gandhi Ashram School is open to students from all faiths, does not discriminate on the basis of religion, and fosters tolerance and empathy towards others.

The school currently has 14 teachers, two of whom are full time music teachers and alumni of the Ashram, and is comprised of 300 students, ranging from grades K-8. Admission is based on three factors: 1. economic poverty 2. social poverty/marginalization (lower castes, tribals/indigenous people) 3. When everything is equal, preference is given to a girl child. The unique feature of the school also lies in its training in stringed instruments which include the violin, viola, and cello. Training starts in the first grade when every student learns how to play an instrument starting with the recorder, with a select group of students being taught how to play the piano.

Music is indeed central to the education at Gandhi Ashram. The school follows the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education board curriculum, and makes every attempt to ensure “all-round growth and development, as well as enable students to keep abreast with innovations in education.” Students are taught English, mathematics, science, social studies and the local vernacular language, Nepali. The school also has a choir, an Indian classical dance club, art club, literary and theater club. On weekends, the school offers training in martial arts/Tae Kwando, volleyball, basketball, and soccer which is the sport of choice among many students.

Not surprisingly, the school has been highly successful in making waves on a local, national as well as international realm. Kushmita Biswakarma, an alumna who was adopted by a German family six years ago, is a current member of the Bavarian Youth Orchestra and an accomplished musician who won a scholarship to study music at the Music University of Nuremberg, in Germany. Added to its roster of distinguished alumni are three students who have been hired by a reputed music academy in Mumbai, India; whilst others are music teachers in the neighboring country of Bhutan. Former students have also been chosen to become members of the India National Youth Orchestra that consists of the best musicians from all over India.

Over the course of years, a number of students have also travelled to Europe and Japan to attend workshops, or on concert tours. In India, Gandhi Ashram’s senior orchestra has performed in metropolitan cities like Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Outside of making their mark in the musical arena, a few female students have also been trained as nurses, or have pursued post graduate degrees in business administration, social work, hotel management in renowned universities in India.

Although Gandhi Ashram continues to make a positive impact in the lives of underprivileged children, the school currently faces severe challenges that fall largely under two categories. First, maintaining creative fidelity in terms of developing the founding spirit and ideals of the Ashram, and secondly sustainability and financial stability. Since most of the students are from very poor families, students are not charged any tuition fees, or fees for books and stationery. Additionally, all educational expenses of students who graduate from the Ashram and transfer to well established schools in the area including the cost of transport, meals, books, uniform and basic medical care, are incurred by Gandhi Ashram.

These have undoubtedly placed a heavy burden on the school’s financial reserves. Given an increase in enrolment every year, there is also an immediate need for additional space. The Ashram also does not receive any Government assistance/funding, and relies heavily on volunteers and donors to uphold some of its monetary as well as personnel needs. Then too, D’Souza says “the effort to find means to bring these children out of their poverty into the new world of modern India is a challenge we feel we cannot refuse.” To address this and as part of the solution, the administration is trying to get the community more involved. The school is trying to establish endowment funds to help pay teachers’ salaries, bear the costs of maintenance, and uphold the children’s feeding program which provides two free meals to all students. Contingent on securing these funds, the school hopes to upgrade to higher secondary level, and relocate the entire school, which suffered structural damages following a massive earthquake in 2011, to a new campus.

In all of this, the school remains firmly committed to its mission. In an effort to introduce new pedagogical methods, it offers on- the-job-training and workshops to teachers. The school also plans to expand its music program, by introducing other instruments especially the Indian musical instruments, dance and vocal training.

Moving forward D’souza hopes Gandhi Ashram will continue to serve as a beacon and model of education—one that strives to create an environment to help each student evolve as persons with a sense of individuality as well as a belief in the values of community. “We are passing through a period of planning and development which invites us to look to the future with hope” says D’souza. The possibilities for more work/improvement seem to be boundless, but “it is encouragement enough for us to dare to dream the impossible dream.”

For more information on Gandhi Ashram, or to donate/sponsor a student visit www.gandhiashramschool.com, or contact Fr. Paul D’souza at pauldsj64@gmail.com. You can also find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/gandhiashramschool .

Watch a PBS Report on Gandhi Ashram featuring Kushmita Biswakarma:

Another documentary on Gandhi Ashram that won Best Educational/ Motivational/ Instructional Film at the 51st National Film Awards in 2004