Sandia LabNews

Excited students attend STEM Day for Girls

Image of stem-day
CYBERDETECTIVES ON THE JOB — Carol Kinnard from the American Association of University Women and Project Lead the Way begins the Cyber CSI workshop by having the girls swear to secrecy before they start the investigation.

When a group of fourth- and fifth-grade girls arrived at Las Positas College’s Science & Technology Center on March 9, they were nervous yet excited about a day of STEM workshops tailored just for them.

The 41 young scholars and their volunteer chaperones entered state-of-the-art college classrooms and science labs and were met by a team of STEM professionals from Sandia and the Tri-Valley branch of the American Association of University Women, who would spend the next five hours inspiring them with STEM Day for Girls activities.

Image of stem-day4
THE NUCLEAR MATTRESS — After successfully dropping an egg from 1 meter high, students attempt a 6-foot drop onto the device they named the “nuclear mattress.”

The students — primarily from elementary schools in Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin, California — had hands-on experiences in every letter of the STEM acronym: science, technology, engineering and math.

In the Aerodynamic Forces workshop, the girls worked in teams to use engineering and math skills to build a contraption that would absorb energy for an egg-drop experiment.

The DNA of Living Things workshop included discussing the science of life and extracting DNA from strawberries. They also made DNA bracelets that represented various animal species.

Finally, in the Cyber CSI workshop, the young scholars applied cryptography techniques — a skill used in cybersecurity — to solve a mock crime scene investigation.

Nearly half of the girls said they enjoyed the day so much it was hard to pick a favorite workshop. However, the most popular experience was the DNA workshop because, in one participant’s words, “DNA is kind of cool because it looks like snot.”

Several parents thanked the STEM Day for Girls hosts.

“Thank you for bringing STEM to the younger girls because we need to get them interested sooner,” a parent said.

Image of stem-day3
STRAWBERRY EXTRACTION — A fifth grader successfully extracts DNA from a strawberry while chemist Bernice Mills cheers her on.

Many of the girls said this was their first STEM event. All participants said they want to do it again next year.

“I think we hit the sweet spot,” said the American Association of University Women’s Naomi Siu, a retired bioscientist who helps with various research projects. “I do this because I feel very strongly that one of the best ways for women to achieve financial stability is through careers in STEM.”

As title sponsor and co-host of STEM Day for Girls, Sandia California’s community involvement team planned the event to be held during Women’s History Month. Sandia selected American Association of University Women to co-host the March event because of its mission to advance gender equity for women and girls through research, education and advocacy.

The event was the same day and location as the Sandia-sponsored regional DOE National Science Bowl competition for middle school students. This allowed fourth- and fifth-grade girls to catch a glimpse of older students participating in a science competition.

While organizing the event, Sandia’s community involvement team focused on recruiting multigenerational volunteers from high schools and colleges, plus postdocs, fully vested professionals and retirees.

For scientists of all ages, STEM Day for Girls was a big win.

Image of stem-day2
LAB LEARNING — Attendees extract DNA from strawberries with the help of volunteers from Sandia, the American Association of University Women and students from local high schools.
Image of stem-day10
READY TO LEARN — The STEM Day for Girls scholars head to their first workshop.
Image of stem-day6
CSI SANDIA — Young cyberdetectives use a cipher to decode a mock crime scene message.
Image of stem-day8
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT — A group of 41 fourth- and fifth-grade students and 19 volunteers pose during STEM Day for Girls at Las Positas College in Livermore, California.
Image of stem-day7
SCIENCE STUDY — Fourth- and fifth-grade girls sit in a science lab while Sandia biotechnologist Jessica Trinh gives a short lesson on DNA.
Image of stem-day5
EAGER ENGINEERS — Girls engineer an energy absorber in the Aerodynamic Forces workshop.
Image of stem-day9
LUNCH BREAK — Sandia’s STEM Day for Girls held lunch in a courtyard while Sandia’s DOE Science Bowl middle schoolers had lunch at another courtyard nearby.

Recent articles by Michelle Walker-Wade