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An overnight in the science center last weekend was designed to spark interest in STEM topics.

Sleepover in GMS Draws Middle-School Girls to Science

Carrie Kissman (Biology) says one of the reasons she’s where she is today is thanks to a science camp she attended when she was young. “It was a really neat, positive experience,” she says of the camp that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “That was a formative experience that I can look back to as to why I got involved [in my career].”

Now, Kissman is hoping to provide the same inspirational experience for young girls in the area. She and Bridgit Martin (Multicultural Student Services) organized STEM Girls Rock, which brought about 25 middle-school-age girls to St. Norbert College for a sleepover and hands-on science camp on Sept. 29-30. The free program was sponsored by Foth and Lindquist Machine Corp.

Organizers hoped the two-day program would build the girls’ confidence in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – by providing them with academic opportunities and introductions to female scientists. “It connects young ladies with older role models to say, ‘why can’t I get involved in science?’ ... We’re just hoping we can encourage ladies to go into the sciences, into STEM,” Martin says. 

Pahyton Simpson, 13, says the camp encourages her to keep working toward her goal of becoming a video game designer. “I’m a little nervous, but excited because it’s really inspirational here at St. Norbert College,”  she says. “Here, girls can do anything.” 

Martin says she got the idea for the STEM camp for girls after learning about a similar camp at Beloit College. She consulted with women in the science disciplines at St. Norbert College to put together a plan. 

“It’s fantastic. Being a female scientist, knowing there’s all sorts of challenges for young women to get involved in the sciences, it’s a really good idea,” Kissman says. “I’m thrilled to be involved with the program. ... I’m super excited to pay it forward.”

The two-day camp included a keynote address and a variety of lab experiments. All the labs were led by women scientists from St. Norbert College, Foth and Lindquist Machine Corp. All the St. Norbert students who volunteered to help during the camp also were women. “I only want women (involved),” Martin says. “That’s what we want to do. We want to get more women in sciences ... especially multicultural women.” 

In 2015, women earned less than 22 percent of computing or engineering degrees or certificates, while minorities made up less than 6 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Yet a recent report by Economic Modeling Specialists International shows the number of STEM jobs in Wisconsin is expected to grow 8 percent over the next 10 years, compared with a projected 4 percent growth in all other jobs. 

The response from parents and local schools reaffirmed the need for a program dedicated to girls and STEM, Martin says. Organizers targeted local middle schools, asking teachers and parents to submit applications for girls who show an aptitude for science and math. 

Eric Ruys says he’s glad his 12-year-old daughter Emma can participate in something outside the classroom other than sports. “I think it’s great that she has the opportunity to do this,” he says.    

The event gave St. Norbert College an opportunity to share its facilities, like the newly renovated Gehl-Mulva Science Center, with the larger community. “We really want to engage the community in events and we’re trying to get more people interested in the STEM,” Kissman says. 

Oct. 3, 2017