By Ms. Allison Barrow (CERDEC)April 17, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Army held an educational workshop to engage Harford County elementary and middle school girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, at the Edgewood Public Library April 15.
The Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, Educational Outreach Program designed the program specifically to engage girls, an under-represented population across the STEM fields.
"STEM activities are often targeted at boys, even inadvertently, and those that are designed for girls frequently limit possibilities at the outset by focusing on activities deemed 'girl specific' such as clothing design, the chemistry of makeup and the like," said Erica Bertoli, CERDEC Educational Outreach Program lead.
A 2011 study from the Department of Commerce found that while females make up almost half the workforce in the U.S., they only hold 25 percent of its STEM careers. A report from the Center for Talent Innovation released in February showed that females were 45 percent more likely than males to leave the STEM field within a year.
Looking to increase their STEM engagement with girls, CERDEC's Educational Outreach team participated in a National Girls Collaborative Project webinar and sought out organizations with a program in the Mid-Atlantic area that focuses on motivating girls to pursue careers in STEM. They found Edgewood Library's Learn, Explore and Play, or LEAP, Program and collaborated with the library to host a workshop for local girls, said Stacey Lambert, member of the CERDEC Educational Outreach team.
"The goal of LEAP is to foster the interest and love for STEM for children in grades third through eighth and their families," said Mary Hastler, director of Harford County Public Library. "[It] introduces science, technology, engineering and math skills to elementary age children -- which are critical for future success in school and the workforce."
The library holds LEAP programs, which are free and open to the public, monthly throughout the year, Hastler said.
CERDEC's session of the LEAP program challenged girls' perception of society and self by asking them "what is a hero?" Most said they thought of superheroes, like Superman, or a community hero such as a Soldier or Fire Fighter. The program sought to change their thinking so the students can see themselves in the answer, said Bertoli.
Throughout the program the girls discussed heroines and female engineers. They discussed attributes of an engineer, such as being creative and inventive, and explored how science is a part of their everyday lives, in activities such as sports and music.
The girls were then paired off and given a box of random objects, which they could design into a "super technology" to support their superhero persona. They first drew a model of it on paper then designed a non-working prototype with the supplies.
Some of the projects were a camera camouflaged from law breakers that would alert the superhero if a crime was being committed, a car that could be driven faster but still be safe, and a teleporter that can send anyone around the world in an instant.
"I kind of just looked at the stuff and thought it'd be cool if we made a teleporter. She [their superhero] can hear whoever is in trouble even if they are on the other side of the world, and she can get there really fast," said fourth grade student Lily.
Each group presented their projects and finished the session with an important lesson on believing in themselves. When asked who in the room thought they were smart, each girl raised her hand quickly.
"The real key to being smart is to believe you're smart, know you're smart, and believe in yourself. At an event like this, the thing that we want to impress upon these girls is that they have the ability to do anything as long as they believe it. They have the ability to decide to be their own heroes, and that's what I hope they took away tonight," said Bertoli.
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.