Penn State event let girls flex their STEAM muscles |
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Emily Balser
Plum students Amelia Faust (front), 11, and Hailey Depkon, 11, work on a computer coding exercise at a girls-only STEAM event Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, at Penn State New Kensington in Upper Burrell.

About 250 middle school girls in the Alle-Kiski Valley got a chance to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) in a different way Tuesday — from other girls and women.

The event, held at Penn State New Kensington, was a collaboration between the university and ABC Create, which works to foster STEAM initiatives in 15 local school districts. The Plum School District also donated the supplies needed along with several teen volunteers.

The students watched “Hidden Figures,” a movie about the women who worked at NASA in the 1960s, and then discussed the movie and heard from four women who work in STEAM fields. Following the discussion, students broke into groups and got to do hands-on activities.

Colleen Smith, STEM outreach coordinator for Penn State New Kensington, said they try to get girls interested in STEAM fields early because there is a gap between how many men and women pursue jobs in those fields.

According to 2016 data from the National Girls Collaborative Project and the National Science Foundation, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only about 30 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

Female scientists and engineers are concentrated in different occupations than men, with about 60 percent in social science and about 50 percent biological, agricultural and environmental life sciences.

Only 15 percent work in engineering and 25 percent in computer and mathematical sciences.

“In these fields, we typically see the same type of person,” Smith said. “We need to broaden that.”

The students got a chance to work with 3-D printing, coding and circuits in their different labs.

Ashley Arner, 11, a student at Freeport Middle School, said she enjoyed the event.

“It was really fun because you get to learn to make new things,” Arner said.

She liked being able to experience learning with other girls.

“I think it’s nice because ‘Hidden Figures’ tells us how there was discrimination against women.”

Arner said she’s interested in going into plant science to learn more about how plants can create medicine and cures for diseases.

Kiski Area Upper Elementary student Sophia Peltier, 11, said she gets to do STEAM activities at her school, but enjoyed getting to try all of the different activities.

Peltier gave a thumbs-up and an “awesome” to the all-girls event.

Emily Marchlewski, 13, who attends Charles Houston Middle School in the Burrell School District, got to fly a drone.

“It’s pretty fun,” she said. “I like how it can just hover without cords and just in the air.”

Marchlewski said she’s interested in engineering, architecture and orthopedic medicine.

Plum High School science and math teacher Stephanie Reilly said she often sees girls take a secondary role in her classes while the boys take the lead.

She said having an all-girls event allows girls to experiment and learn on their own.

“We have pushed really hard to get females in our classes,” Reilly said.

Penn State New Kensington freshman Sedona Rogers, who leads the Upper Burrell college’s STEAM Outreach club, said the event gave girls a chance to feel more comfortable learning about STEAM subjects, so they don’t feel overshadowed by boys.

“It’s really inspiring and empowering to have all these girls together,” she said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or on Twitter @emilybalser.

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