When faced with a problem or a challenge, what does any good scientist, engineer or mathematician do? They try to solve it.
In this case, a group of female students at Jenison High School noticed a trend in declining interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, among their peers as they got older. This was an issue they felt needed to be addressed.
“They were frustrated that so often girls who were interested in STEM when they were in elementary school were no longer interested when they reached junior high or high school,” says chemistry teacher Alice Putti. “They wanted to start a group to encourage girls to stay active in these areas.”
Their solution was to create Girls in STEM, a club in which students come together to support each other in their pursuits. The girls hold open discussions about their experiences and issues they have encountered, and participate in field trips and events to continue learning outside of the classroom.
The group members also wanted to share their passion and knowledge to help even more girls find their place in STEM.
“When I was in elementary school, I did not get a lot of exposure to STEM activities. I want to be able to bring that experience to girls now,” says high school student Megan TerHaar. “STEM is very important to all the girls in our club, and we want to share that importance with young girls. We want to show them that it is cool, fun and rewarding.”
And that is exactly what Megan and the rest of the members of Girls in STEM are doing through their elementary outreach program.
“We travel to elementary schools to promote interest in STEM to young girls and demonstrate our own love for it,” says student Peyton Benac. “We hope to become role models for them.”
The group visits each of the five elementary schools in the district once a semester to host a two-hour afterschool program. The girls typically start each session with an experiment, challenging the elementary students to think critically and hypothesize various solutions. Additional activities, such as science demonstrations, math games, and engineering challenges, are presented to allow students the opportunity to learn about each subject.
Girls in STEM also provide a take-home activity so students can continue learning and experimenting on their own. Past activities have included Alka-Seltzer lava lamps and conductive Play-Doh. Recently, participants went home armed with LED lights, copper tape and batteries to create paper circuits in greeting cards. The students were excited to construct the light-up cards for their family and friends.
“Personally, the most rewarding part of helping with the elementary school programs is when my little sister, who is a second grader, comes home from the Girls in STEM meetings with a smile plastered across her face,” says Megan. “Her mouth is going a mile a minute telling the rest of the family about the activities she did.”
The high school girls hope to use this energy and excitement to spark a lifelong interest in STEM. With each of these fields constantly growing, opportunities are endless for women who are passionate about them.
“Young girls need to be encouraged to pursue their interests,” says Peyton. “When I stand in a room of 50 girls, ages 6-12, who are excited about science and math, I see the future of STEM, and it’s exciting.”
“The ranch has opened up such creativity for our teachers. We can start to think of different ideas for putting our curriculum into practice. Teachers kind of get to be kids again!” —Danielle Snoeyink, Rose Park Elementary School Teacher
“Volunteering honors Martin Luther King Jr. because he said anybody can be great because anybody can serve. It show our part by serving the community.” —Evan, GHAPS student